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Canadian Thanksgiving History

Canadian Thanksgiving history shares some similarities and a few differences with American Thanksgiving history. With the popularity of stuffed turkey, pumpkin pie, and family gatherings, Canadian Thanksgiving may strongly resemble American traditions, but it is somewhat different than the U.S. celebration.

Canadian Thanksgiving History

As with many of Canada’s traditions, Thanksgiving is more closely associated with European celebrations than American ones. Before the Pilgrims ever landed on Plymouth Rock, the Europeans celebrated harvests in October, and Canadian Thanksgiving history is linked to many of these same traditions.

The Beginning of Canadian Thanksgiving History

The first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America actually took place in Canada, when a British explorer named Martin Frobisher landed in Newfoundland. Like many other explorers in his time, Frobisher was looking for a westward passage from Great Britain to the Orient, and he wanted to celebrate his survival of the long journey. In 1578 Frobisher held a formal ceremony to thank God for his safe landing in the New World, nearly 50 years prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival in Massachusetts. He followed the model of similar celebrations back in Great Britain, and the Canadian tradition was born.

During this celebration, it is likely the Thanksgiving feast relied primarily on foods native to Canada, and particularly Newfoundland at the time. Wild foul, elk, and also various forms of seafood were part of those early thanksgiving celebrations. While the particulars of the Thanksgiving feast have changed considerably since this first Thanksgiving, the reasons and the sentiment behind the celebration continue today.

Settlers Celebrate

Subsequent Canadian settlers continued Frobisher’s tradition, including those who traveled with Samuel de Champlain. Champlain, his crew, and subsequent settlers hosted grand Thanksgiving celebrations, and even dubbed them “Orders of Good Cheer.” These settlers shared their bounty with the Indian natives of Canada. While Canadian settlers, like their American counterparts, had a conflicted history with the native residents of their nation, early Thanksgiving celebrations appeared to bring these two worlds together amicably.

Canadian Thanksgiving Continued

In the founding era of Canada, Canadian thanksgiving was typically celebrated in late October or early November. Thanksgiving was made a national Canadian holiday in 1879, when the date November 6th was set aside for official Thanksgiving observances.

The November 6th observance changed on January 31, 1957 when Canada’s Parliament shifted the date to the second Monday in October, so it would not fall on the same week as Canada’s Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day, honors the fallen soldiers following World War I and II, generally was celebrated on November 11th. The thought was that having two major national holidays in one week would unduly affect government and businesses, so Parliament decided to spread the celebrations out by moving Thanksgiving to the second Monday in October.

Canadian Harvest Facts

While American traditions focus on the first Thanksgiving celebration with Pilgrims and Indians, Canada’s Thanksgiving has a different focus. Canada emphasizes the bountiful harvest with its festivities, and in formal Parliamentary documents Canada vows to give thanks to God for these bounties. As a result, it makes sense that Canada’s Thanksgiving celebration would fall closer to its particular harvest season in October. Because Canada is located further north than the United States, Canada’s harvest arrives earlier than America’s harvest, again making an October observance logical.

Similarities Between Canadian and American Thanksgiving Traditions

Like the American Thanksgiving, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving with similar foods, including stuffed turkey with trimmings, pumpkin and sweet potato pies, and much more. Like Americans, Canadians enjoy parades and family get-togethers on Thanksgiving. The overlap of American Thanksgiving traditions and the Canadian Thanksgiving history is due largely because of American migration to Canada. During the Revolutionary War, many Americans who wanted to remain loyal to Great Britain fled to Canada, and brought their Thanksgiving traditions with them. As a result, Canada’s Thanksgiving festivities include a unique blend of European and American traditions.