As a first-generation American Canadian, nothing makes me prouder than seeing Canadians embrace an American holiday in their own unique way. (What specifically Canadian tweaks have been made to the holiday here, besides the October date, is still unclear to me. But I’m sure that there are some extremely important, if for all practical purposes invisible, distinctions that some Council of Canadians supporter could draw if they happened to stumble across this site.)
The holiday was erratically celebrated for years, then shifted dates annually, even taking place on the same day in late November as U.S. Thanksgiving through the late 1890s. For some years after the First World War, Thanksgiving was celebrated on Armistice (now Rememberance) Day, to give thanks for peace. As one might expect, the debate about just what is being commemorated or celebrated continues to rage on the Internets.
Wikipedia features a revisionist urban legend:
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been futilely attempting to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did, however, establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey.
And as with most things cross-border, Canada would like it to be known that even though Americans may not know about their Thanksgiving, and Canada didn’t really settle down to celebrating it on a regular basis until the mid-20th century, and the place where Frobisher held a formal ceremony wasn’t a part of Canada at all until 1949, Canadian Thanksgiving is still better:
This event is widely considered to be the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first official Thanksgiving to occur in North America.
Take that, Pilgrims.
Others claim the first Canadian Thanksgiving was in Nova Scotia:
The first Thanksgiving Day in Canada was observed at Port Royal, N.S., in 1710, when the town and fort passed into English hands for the last time. In 1760 a day of thanksgiving at Halifax marked the victory of General Jeffrey Amherst’s troops at Montreal. Early thanksgiving days were held at various times, usually to celebrate military victories or the birth of royal children.
Whether celebrations of military victories and royal births should really count as predecessors to today’s Thanksgiving is open to debate.
Perhaps more authoritative is a paper written by a history PhD candidate at York University in 1999 examining the history of Thanksgiving in Ontario. After debunking the Frobisher myth, his conclusion? Protestant clergymen copied American Thanksgiving traditions to create a holiday in Ontario that celebrated, in part, anti-Americanism:
Church leaders, particularly after Confederation, felt it their moral and historical duty to shape the Canadian identity in the Christian mould and saw the adoption of the Thanksgiving holiday as a way to do this. They created Canadian Thanksgiving as an exclusively religious event that was white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, pro-British and often anti-American in nationalist intent.
The paper surveyed Canadian newspapers from the 1870s, which showed that:
they maintained the British focus of Canadian nationalism by insisting that the Pilgrims had been English, whereas the Americans always portrayed the Pilgrims as the first Americans.
Whatever its origins, everyone enjoys a good turkey and a day off. And everyone loves anything deep-fried. So why not a deep-fried turkey? Well, because:
In 1999, the last year figures were available, the National Fire Protection Association reported that 500 fires involving a deep-fat fryer took place around the nation, resulting in over $6.8 million dollars in damage.
There’s a descriptive photo, too.