50,000 years ago when the land bridge between what is now Russia and what is now Canada was still in existence, large numbers of Kamchatka Reindeer came across to North America and split in two different directions. Some reindeer, who preferred a West Coast lifestyle, migrated almost due south and swam across the shallow channels separating the mainland from the Queen Charlotte Islands where they lived until the early 1900s. The other group, who preferred a more sheltered existence, headed due east and settled in the forests of Maple covering most of northern Canada.
These Maple Reindeer lived almost exclusively on a diet of maple leaves and maple syrup, which the animals licked from the bark of the trees. This maple syrup lightly flavoured their meat, which became a delicacy amongst the First Nations bands of the area. The meat was flavourful and could be eaten easily without requiring sharp implements to cut it. The indigenous peoples hunted sensibly and preserved the numbers of reindeer at manageable levels. At one time, first nations’ chroniclers reported that herds of Maple Reindeer could take two hours to run past a certain spot.
Sadly, the numbers of Maple Reindeer declined rapidly once European settlers came to Canada and hunted the reindeer unmercilessly. The last reindeer died in 1876. Settlers tried to simulate the taste and texture of the meat by soaking beef in maple syrup, but this resulted in a sickly sweet, chewy texture that only really satisfied people who were used to chewing tobacco and wanted a sweet-tasting alternative that wasn’t addictive.