A Quick History of Canadian Thanksgiving

October 9, 2017

A Quick History of Canadian Thanksgiving

(In which we could use your help – see below)

Thanksgiving is this coming Monday (10/9), and while it’s nice to have a day off and stuff our faces full of turkey, it’s also worth taking a look at the history of the holiday.

The American version of the feast seems to dominate the Thanksgiving market (…and in their opinion, every market), but unfortunately for our neighbours to the South, they come in second here. Canadian Thanksgiving traces its roots to 1578 and a seaman named Martin Frobisher, compared to America’s Thanksgiving origin story in 1621.

So, what exactly happened in 1578?

A lot. But for our purposes, Frobisher, an Englishman, wanted to give thanks for arriving in an entirely new world (or, continent, rather) – new to him, anyhow. (It’s worth noting here that Indigenous people have inhabited Canada for nearly 12,000 years.)

But this Thanksgiving celebration, while the historical moment researchers reference as the first Canadian Thanksgiving, looked a little different than your usual turkey and pumpkin pie family dinner. The fare for Frobisher and friends was more along the lines of salted beef and mushy peas…. Yum.

Many years later, in 1604, Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, also began to hold annual feasts of thanks to celebrate the harvest. While this custom isn’t unique in itself -many cultures and countries the world over have held feasts to show their gratitude for the annual harvest- it does provide another starting point for tracing back our great Canadian holiday.

But even this tradition started by Champlain likely didn’t include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie.

So, where did all the modern Thanksgiving food come from?

Well, it’s a bit of a mystery.

Turkey, squash, and pumpkin made an appearance in Nova Scotia in the 1750s, and then it spread across Canada in the 1870s.

But how did it get there? If you can give us some insight into this, comment below!

Thanksgiving Day in Canada became an official holiday in 1957. It was proclaimed to occur annually on the second Monday in October. Before this government decree, the holiday was observed often in November, and as late in the year as December! But the most popular time to celebrate Thanksgiving was in mid-October, before the weather became too cold for outdoor activities.

There are a few regional differences when it comes to Thanksgiving: It is not a statutory holiday in PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador. In Quebec, Action de grâce, as it’s called, is a more low-key affair than in many other provinces.

No matter how you celebrate in the coming days, take some time to spend with your family, enjoy your time off work, and eat well!

And if you’ve got your own quirky Thanksgiving traditions, let us know!

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