Keeping the American Thanksgiving tradition alive in Canada

For the 73rd year, Cottam United Church in Essex County will cook an American Thanksgiving meal. Cooking enough for about 11,500 meals.

Turkey dinner meets 'Tim Horton's drive-thru,' says organizer of new format

Pre-orders must be in by Tuesday night, as volunteers start peeling potatoes on Wednesday. (Submitted by Cottam United Church)

The Canadian tradition to give thanks on the second Monday in October isn't the only Thanksgiving some in southwestern Ontario celebrate.

This year, like almost every other for the last 73 years, members of the Cottam United Church in Essex County will put together a feast.

It's normally a big event, even attended by Americans. This year, the COVID-19 restrictions won't allow for that, but the members of the church aren't ready to let go of the tradition.

"It's more than just a meal. It has been an event that has brought our community together beyond just even the community of the church. It's generally the community of both people who live in the area and our American cousins," said Rick Mayea, an organizer of the event.

More preparations underway for Cottam Thanksgiving. (Submitted by Cottam United Church)

Deciding to still host the dinner was the easy part, he said. The challenge was how to do it and keep the community safe. 

In the past, hundreds dined in the 150-capacity hall from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. with another 400 to 500 takeout orders. Since that large of a group gathering isn't currently allowed, they came up with a simple plan with the help of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

"Just consider it an average Tim Horton's drive-thru," Mayea said. 

This year each dinner costs $18. They're filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberries, peas, squash, then a choice of pie, either apple, cherry or blueberry.

So far about 800 meals have been pre-ordered, but they expect more. Normally the group serves about 1,200 meals. 

The event only comes together thanks to dedicated volunteers. Only 50 can be inside of the church at one time, but Mayea said they've been able to make it work. 

Thursday is American Thanksgiving and that always means turkey dinners at Cottam United Church. Pandemic or no pandemic, they're going ahead. Tony Doucette speaks with Rick Mayea, one of the organizers of the annual turkey dinner. 9:10

"It'll be a little bit different than trying to serve a person a meal," he said. "People will come through and be packing the meals."

He says they can produce and pack 100 meals in about 15 minutes and are prepared for a different traffic situation in the parking lot. 

"We have people out there controlling things," Mayea said. "We do have people greeting cars as they arrive and kind of directing them where to go."

This year all the meals must be pre-ordered for pick up by Tuesday night. Church volunteers will start peeling the potatoes to feed an estimated 1,150 starting Wednesday. 


  • An earlier version of this story used a file photo from 2017, but did not make that clear in the cutline. We have now added in a current photo of the group's preparations.
    Nov 26, 2020 12:41 PM ET


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