The age old Canadian question of "Why is Thanksgiving different in Canada?" is often brought up but never really answered. Our thanksgiving differs in tradition, origin and even the month it falls in. Now, none of us here hold a PhD in Canadian History but we managed to pull together some answers that explain the Canadian tradition to those of us long out of school. Take this quick history lesson to your Thanksgiving table to impress the relatives and detract from the hot topic of this years looming federal election politics!
The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are closely connected to the traditions of Europe rather than of the United States. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving in Canada, or at least the land that would become Canada, has it's own history, separate from our American counterparts. Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe during the month of October. As the story goes, in 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew gave thanks and communion during mass in Frobisher Bay (present day Iqaluit, Nunavut) while dining on salt beef, biscuits, and mushy peas. They gave thanks specifically for their safe arrival in what was then Newfoundland. This is the first known North American Thanksgiving, and took place 43 years before the first pilgrims landed on Plymouth, Massachusetts! 48 years later on November 14 1606, inhabitants of New France under explorer and settler Samuel de Champlain held a huge feast of thanksgiving between the local Mi'kmaq and the French. The Mi'kmaq taught the settlers about the value of autumn harvest foods, and helped the settlers avoid sicknesses like scurvy that had decimated the settlement at Ile-Sainte-Croix in past winters, the Ordre de Bon Temps (Order of Good Cheer) was founded, offering these festive meals on a monthly basis.
However, despite our history of very uniquely Canadian thanksgivings, our modern concepts are heavily influenced by our American friends. Foods associated with our current Thanksgiving celebrations, such as Turkey, squash and pumpkin, were introduced to Halifax in the 1750's by United Empire Loyalists, and continued to spread to other parts of the nation. Over time, Canadians lost touch with our own reason for Thanksgiving and slowly adopted a more cohesive North American style festival that continues today.
For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday on November 6th 1879. But on January 31st 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that on the second Monday in October, Thanksgiving would be a 'general day of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed." The second Monday in October was chosen because after the World Wars, Remembrance Day and Thanksgiving kept falling in the same week, which did not allow the time for Canadians to properly mourn and honour the loss of fallen soldiers. Most Canadians embraced the change as it also coincides more closely to the actual completion of harvest across most of the country.
While this mandate for Thanksgiving may not be observed by all Canadians in its entirety, the ideas of being thankful, of spending time with family, and sharing a delicious meal still remain universal. As Thanksgiving in Canada has historically been celebrated on several different dates, it is fitting that, even though it is observed on the Monday, families equally as likely to celebrate on Saturday or Sunday.
So there you have it. Thanksgiving is indeed a Canadian original! Sorry, eh?!