Quebec cancels big Thanksgiving gatherings, but turkey dinner producers aren't worried

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On Thursday, Health Minister Christian Dubé asked people to cancel large gatherings for Thanksgiving. With the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic underway, time is of the essence: Better to sacrifice now so that people can enjoy Christmas, Dubé argued.

But on Friday morning, it was business as usual for turkey farmer Pascal Choquette, of Dindons Choquette in the Eastern Townships.

“Thanksgiving, in Quebec, is not really a big holiday,” he said. “I sell a lot to retail. People know they can have fresh turkey for Thanksgiving, so they can take advantage of the long weekend and cook; but do they really celebrate? I don’t celebrate it. We never have, in my family.”

Choquette believes the holiday may be more popular among his anglophone clientele, but he doesn’t think Dubé’s guidelines will stop anyone from cooking up a storm.

“Some people buy two, three, four turkeys and freeze them, to make reserves for later in the fall,” he said. “Thanksgiving here is not like in the States, where they celebrate it more than Christmas.

“It’s strange to say, but I don’t know if (the second wave) will change anything for me.”

Dubé’s concerns may lead Quebecers to have smaller Thanksgiving meals. Does that mean they might skimp on traditional side dishes like cranberry sauce?

Patrick Bédard doesn’t think so. Co-owner and general manager at cranberry producer Atocas Bédard Inc. — which sells under the brand names Baies d’or, Supra Fruit and Canneberges Québec — Bédard says Thanksgiving doesn’t boost his sales much, anyway.

“We deal in fresh produce. It’s a myth to think that (cranberry) sales go up on Thanksgiving.”

Atocas Bédard Inc. produces about 10 million pounds of cranberries per year, more than 70 per cent of which are transformed into dried fruit. Based in St-Louis-de-Blandford, near Victoriaville, the company has an exclusive deal for cranberry sales with IGA, Loblaws and Maxi stores in Quebec, and is responsible for more than half the cranberries sold at Super C and Métro stores. As of this year, its products are available across Canada.

Bédard said COVID-19 has threatened his company’s ability to find farm help more than it has affected retail sales.

“Only half of our Mexican workers came in,” he said. “We could have made up for it with workers from Quebec, but the CERB (payments from the federal government) made it almost impossible. It was hard to catch up. We raised salaries by 30 per cent and we’re still having trouble.”

And how about a big slice of pumpkin pie? You can have that any time, according to Nathalie Gervais of Verger Labonté, an orchard on the southern tip of île Perrot.

“Thanksgiving is not a big time for pumpkin sales,” she said. “For us, it’s more apples right now. Pumpkin and squash can be used all fall, not just at Thanksgiving.”

Verger Labonté allows clients and groups to pick their own produce. Reserved slots are getting booked up quickly for apple picking, with the rush on pumpkins coming closer to Halloween.

“Pumpkin and squash last a long time,” Gervais said. “People used to store them for winter. With everything happening, hopefully people will start storing vegetables. (The second wave) will affect us a bit, for sure, but maybe not as much as others.”

tdunlevy@postmedia.com

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