Jun 14, 2024

Autumn foliage at Killbear Provincial Park in Ontario.

Ever thought of celebrating thanksgiving outdoors? Your balcony nor your backyard doesn’t count. I’m talking about the great, vast Canadian wilderness. May sound a bit odd and unconventional, but this idea has been the best thanksgiving decision our family ever made!

Our first Thanksgiving camping was in 2013. We chose Oastler Provincial Park in Ontario because of the great reviews on the autumn foliage. Plus, it was a relatively small park where we thought would make for a perfect cold-weather trial camping.

The park did not disappoint. As we were driving to our campsite, we fell in love with the spectacular autumn colours of different trees in gold, orange, bright red, auburn lining the narrow road. I got excited seeing all this beauty and thought of how this would make for a unique social media post.

Our three girls had a different agenda in mind. Back then they were 15, 10 and 6 – each one excited to look for the best spot of thick leaves where they can carelessly lie and roll crazily. My husband too was excited and has his own agenda. He’s been scouting for the perfect family picture backdrop and thought of this camping trip as the best opportunity to do just that.

Since we were newbies, our preparations were not as good as now in terms of meal planning. With our first Thanksgiving outdoors, we opted for meals that we thought were simple and easy to cook.

Our thanksgiving dinner was chicken barbeque and fried rice with corn on the side. We thought of marinating the chicken thighs beforehand, refrigerating it and packed in a plastic container. As for the fried rice, we brought cooked rice and packed it in a freezer bag. Our side dish was the easiest thanks to Green Giant. All we needed to bring was just a can opener. At first, we thought grilled chicken thighs would be easy to cook. Surprisingly, it took my husband close to an hour to finally roast the chicken. We did not foresee that firewood from the park would be wet and will not be good for grilling food. It would make a decent bonfire but using it to cook was a challenge. My husband and I thought we should find a better way next time.

The following year, our thanksgiving camping was in Killbear Provincial Park. Again, our criteria was an amazing fall backdrop and this park was a killer in terms of the view. It is located on Georgian Bay where the lake is breathtaking and the foliage is picturesque.

Like Oastler, Killbear did not disappoint. We were all in awe of its beauty and spent long hours walking the shoreline or the various scenic trails. As for our meals, our experience the previous year challenged us to come up with a better way and what better way to do it than pre-cook everything. We had pre-baked chicken with two salads on the side. The veggies were all pre-cut for the lettuce and tomato Salad and the dressings in small containers. The other side dish was a homemade Macaroni Salad that was prepared days before our trip.

No cooking was involved this year except for heating the pre-baked chicken on the grill wrapped in aluminum foil. With our mistake the previous year, we brought our own charcoal just to make sure even re-heating the chicken wouldn’t pose any difficulties. Everything went smoothly. We all had a hearty thanksgiving meal with zero hungry episodes.

Our third year of Thanksgiving celebration was different. Still outdoors, but with an additional agenda! We chose to celebrate it in a Dark Sky Preserve where we’ll have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights.

The park is in Manitoulin Island and took seven hours to drive. We didn’t mind this at all as we’re all excited to have the chance to see the elusive lights. Another great plus with this park is the Pot Luck Thanksgiving Dinner. All we had to do was bring one dish that we can share with a small group. The easiest and most friendly dish we could think of was baked ham. Thanks to Costco, we brought a pre-cooked eight-kilogram ham, then prepared the pineapple glaze a day before. Pot luck dinner was a great treat as all the dishes were filling and scrumptious. There were chili, German sausage and sauerkraut casserole, different kinds of hearty soup which were all perfect on a cold Thanksgiving outdoor celebration.

The Gordons, who own the park, also served white and red wine for the adults to share. Though we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, our tummies were all satisfied and content with the savory meal we had. It was a one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving night.

Last year, our thanksgiving was back in one of Ontario’s Provincial Parks. We chose Charleston Lake so we could try out it’s picture-perfect 10 km Westside Trail. It will be a first for us to hike a long trail but it didn’t deter us as we love new adventure and gaining new experiences.

Thanksgiving meal this year though was nothing adventurous. As we’ve already tried baked ham the previous year, it was a hands-down, must-bring for Thanksgiving dinner. Side dishes include store-bought pumpernickel bread and homemade German potato salad. Everything was perfect and went without a hitch.

Since we started celebrating Thanksgiving outdoors, our family has not been the same. Being out in the cold, communing with nature, just with the very basics has kept each one of us, literally and figuratively, grounded. It brought us closer, taught us to become more tolerant with each other’s quirks and more forgiving with our respective temperaments. Celebrating Thanksgiving outdoors may not be for everyone but one thing’s for sure – our family would be keeping this tradition and hopefully pass it on to the next generation.

Cecille R. Asuncion is a SAHWM (Stay-At-Home-Working-Mom) mother of three. She works online managing client's eBay, Amazon and Etsy stores; dabbles in digital content making. The family migrated to Canada more than a decade ago. They live in Oshawa, Ontario.

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