Moments In History: The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist

canada

The vast, snow-capped country of Canada brings many iconic cultural images to mind: the giant bull moose, the rough and rowdy sport of ice hockey.  However, there is no image as iconic as the maple leaf that is represented on the nation’s flag.  The maple tree and its chief produce, maple syrup, is how this strange true story begins.

The origins of this incident lay with the creation of the FPAQ, also known as the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The FPAQ began to corner the market on maple syrup production in the 1960’s.  Using strict price control and quotas systems, they quickly became Canada’s largest maple syrup producer, generating 94% of Canada’s maple syrup and 77% of the world’s supply. Many have called it a government controlled “Cartel” akin to OPEC or Narco trafficking organizations. The corporation even set up a strategic maple syrup reserve in case of national crisis or shortage. Maple syrup exceeds the price of crude oil per barrel by about 10 times the value. Realizing the value of such a commodity, it was only a matter of time before some greedy thieves would get their hands sticky.

Over the course of several months between 2011 and 2012, Richard Vallieres along with several others broke into to the FPAQ storage facility and stole more the 122,000 barrels of maple syrup (roughly 3,000 tons worth nearly $C19 million dollars).  The gang would siphon out the syrup before refilling the barrel with water. Then they would truck the product to illegal syrup dispensers in the U.S. The gang was caught when they got so lazy as to not fill up the looted barrels with water and an on-site inspection crew started finding the barrels empty. In all, seventeen men were connected with stealing, transporting, and distributing the stolen syrup.  As the accused ringleader, Richard Vallieres was sentenced to nine years in prison and was ordered to pay back millions from his illicit gains. Adjusted for inflation, this heist still remains the largest in Canadian history.  So the next time you’ve got a plate full of flap jacks or a nice Belgian style waffle in front of you, think back to this strange and sweet historical event.
For more information about Canadian history, check out:

Canada: A Modern History

 

 

Moments In History: September 12th, 1683

veinna

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 12th, 1683

Battle of Vienna

Late in the afternoon of September 12th, 1683, the fate of Christendom and the future of Western civilization would be decided. To better understand the significance of this turning point in history, we must go back all the way to 1453 to the Fall of Constantinople. The Ottoman Turks had been fighting a series of wars for close to two hundred years after the conquest of Greece and the Balkans.  Large scale naval raids and piracy had long plagued the coast of the Mediterranean. The practice of slavery was so common that, through the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 2.5 million slaves were taken from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean respectfully.  The Ottomans had conquered most of the Balkans and Hungary by 1541.

Many assumed the Turks’ westward expansion seemed nearly unstoppable. In response to the Ottoman threat, various kingdoms of Christendom would unite to form holy leagues and Christian collations under the backing of the Pope that routinely managed to slow the advance or halt conquest over the decades. The Hapsburgs of Spain, funded by the conquered gold of the new world, funded the majority of campaigns from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 to the enormous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. These defeats shocked the world because beforehand the Ottomans were believed to be invincible.

With these events in mind, fast forward nearly one hundred years. In the 1600s, the Ottomans had recovered from their losses, and the Christian nations of Europe were in disarray following the Thirty Years’ War that claimed the lives of nearly 8 million people in the struggle between Protestants and Catholics.  The Ottomans had long sought to take the city of Vienna as it had been a strategic location of trade and offered numerous military potentials for future conquest into the heart of Europe. With the alarming news of the mobilization of the Ottoman army, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I began to prepare for the titanic struggle that was to come. He sent envoys requesting reinforcements to the Pope and most importantly asked that the Polish King John III Sobieski lead a relief force to the city’s aid. By August 6th, 1682, the Ottomans marched out of Constantinople with a force of nearly 170,000 men, cavalry, artillery, and siege equipment and headed straight for Vienna.

By July of 1683, the city of Vienna was under siege and by late August its 15,000 defenders were on their last legs as starvation looked imminent. The Ottoman General had taken a rather passive approach to the siege, possibly wanting to capture the city intact in hopes of vast quantities of loot and plunder that would rival the splendor of Constantinople. Ottoman sappers (infantry soldiers) had dug elaborate tunnels with the intent to blow up the city walls and lead a final assault before the relief force could arrive.

But by the afternoon of the September 12th, the vanguard of John III Sobieski’s army began to arrive and were sent into the fray. The Christian Coalition numbered around some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Germans and Poles. As the battle began to turn in favor of the Coalition, Sobieski unleashed his full might of cavalry as some 18,000 horsemen began charging down the hills towards the wavering Ottomans.  Sobieski charged at the head of his 3000 elite heavy cavalry, known as the “Winged Hussars,” who were famous for their attire of large wooden frames shaped like wings strapped to their backs and glittering with hundreds of feathers from eagles, swans, or even ostriches in order to give them a terrifying appearance.

This was the largest single cavalry charge in human history; it broke the back of the Turkish army by the evening when as many as 15,000 Ottomans lay dead. With the rest of their army routed and their entire camp looted, the battle was over.  All of Europe celebrated Sobieski as the savior of Christendom. For many historians, this is the starting point for the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, who would lose control of Hungary in the coming decade and would never again go on such a grand offensive with hopes of deeper European conquest.

If you would like to learn more about the struggles between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, the Union University Library has some amazing books dealing with this subject: