Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, occurring on the second Monday in October (since 1957), is an annual Canadian holiday to give thanks at the close of the harvest season.
On Thursday, January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed:
|“||A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.||
Since 1971, Canadian Thanksgiving has coincided with the observance of Columbus Day in the United States.
Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada, with the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia being the exceptions. Where a company is regulated by the federal government (such as those in the telecommunications and banking sectors), it is recognized regardless of status provincially.
As a liturgical festival, Thanksgiving corresponds to the English and continental-European Harvest festival, with churches decorated with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves, and other harvest bounty, English and European harvest hymns sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and scriptural selections drawn from biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.
While the actual Thanksgiving holiday is on a Monday, Canadians might eat their Thanksgiving meal on any day of the three-day weekend, though Sunday and Monday are the most common. While Thanksgiving is usually celebrated with a large family meal, it is also often a time for weekend getaways. Tourist destinations such as Ellicottville, New York, USA, which rely heavily on Canadian visitors, often hold festivals over Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.
Similar to the United States, traditions such as parades and football can be a part of Canadian Thanksgiving. The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest parade is the most widely known Canadian Thanksgiving Day parade and is broadcast nationwide on CTV. The Canadian Football League holds a nationally televised doubleheader known as the “Thanksgiving Day Classic”. It is one of two weeks in which the league plays on Monday afternoons, the other being the Labour Day Classic. Unlike the Labour Day games, the teams that play on the Thanksgiving Day Classic vary each year.
Various First Nations in Canada had long-standing traditions celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Canada’s First Nations and Native Americans throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Cree and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada can be traced back to the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England in search of the Northwest Passage. In this, his third, voyage to the Frobisher Bay area of Baffin Island in the present Canadian Territory of Nunavut, it was also the intention to start a small settlement and his fleet of 15 ships were so fitted out with men, materials and provisions for this purpose. However, the loss of one of his ships through contact with ice along with much of the building material was to prevent him from doing so. The expedition was plagued by ice and freak storms which at times had scattered the fleet and on meeting together again at their anchorage in Frobisher Bay, “..Mayster Wolfall, [ Robert Wolfall ] a learned man, appoynted by hir Majesties Councell to be theyr minister and preacher, made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places,…” . They celebrated Communion and “The celebration of divine mystery was the first signe, scale, and confirmation of Christes name, death and passion ever known in all these quarters.”
Frobisher returned to England in the fall of the year with over a thousand tons of what he thought was precious gold ore which turned out to be totally worthless, and minus “fortie”, or about ten percent of his ships’ compliment “whiche number is not great, considering howe manye ships were in the fleete, and how strange fortunes we passed.”
The exact locations of Frobisher’s activities remained a bit of a mystery until the discoveries of the American explorer Charles Francis Hall in Baffin Island nearly three centuries later in 1861.
Years later, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, in 1604 onwards also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ and gladly shared their food with their First Nations neighbours.
After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the newly independent United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada.
Lower Canada and Upper Canada observed Thanksgiving on different dates; for example, in 1816 both celebrated Thanksgiving for the termination of the war between France and Great Britain, the former on 21 May and the latter on 18 June. In 1838, Lower Canada used Thanksgiving to celebrate the end of the Lower Canada Rebellion. Following the rebellions, the two Canadas were merged into a united Province of Canada, which observed Thanksgiving six times from 1850 to 1865.
The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illnesses.
Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year, but the date was initially a Thursday in November. The date of celebration changed several times until, in 1957, it was officially declared to be the second Monday in October. The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed each year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In its early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary.
After World War I, an amendment to the Armistice Day Act established that Armistice Day and Thanksgiving would both be celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11 occurred, starting in 1921. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays, and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day. From 1931 to 1957, the date was set by proclamation, generally falling on the second Monday in October, except for 1935, when it was moved due to a general election. In 1957 Thanksgiving was permanently set to be the second Monday in October.