Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrated on the second Monday of every October, is a beloved holiday that is unique from its American sibling. Canadian Thanksgiving not only comes earlier in the year than American Thanksgiving, but it came earlier in history too. The day has been an official holiday in Canada for over 100 years, however the date was not agreed upon until the mid-20th century. In 1957, Parliament finally settled on a permanent date for the holiday when it was proclaimed that:
“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.”
The very first Thanksgiving in all of North America was actually celebrated as far back as 1578 in the province of Newfoundland. Martin Frobisher, an English explorer in the uncharted northern territories, organized the first religious Thanksgiving for his crew and early Canadian settlers as a way to take stock of all they had accomplished in a short time. Frobisher mapped a great deal of eastern Canada and in enduring the unprecedented, bitter winter storms in the far north near Baffin Island, he had lost many ships and comrades. During his 1578 voyage to Baffin Island to set up a new English colony, Frobisher’s ships were scattered. At Frobisher Bay, the explorer was happily reunited with his fleet, and all who had survived the storms honored their reunion with a day of thanks.
Over the course of the next four centuries, the nature of Canadian Thanksgiving evolved to include a variety of unique characteristics. French settlers of the 16th century, led by Samuel de Champlain, would continue the feasts and days of thanks for surviving the voyage and making a new home for themselves. Officially, the next Canadian day of thanks was nationally celebrated in April of 1872, in honor of the Prince of Wales. That year on April 15, the largest of all the commonwealth nations rejoiced over the recovery of its future King, Edward VII, from a serious case of typhoid. In following years, Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving almost annually, but they could never decide whether to do so in October or November. To finally separate Thanksgiving from what would become Remembrance Day, and also to bring the celebrations closer to the true Canadian harvest dates, Parliament settled on the second Monday of every October as the official day of Canadian Thanksgiving.
Traditional Canadian Thanksgiving Food
Like their American cousins, Canadians love to eat roasted turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes and even pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Monday, but there are a few differences between dinner tables that make the northern celebration unique from the southern. In Canada, pumpkin pie is made with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves to create a delicate spicy flavor topped with whipped cream, while Americans tend to bake a custard-based pumpkin tart.
Sweet potatoes or yams are generally baked and mashed, and given a similar spice treatment as the pumpkin pie; Amercians prefer a marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole.
Bread stuffing is a delicious Thanksgiving custom that has supporters on either side of the Canada-US border, and it is derived from English roots. In Great Britain, people think that reconstituting dried bread with custard is a neat idea, but it really isn’t such a winner in Canada. Instead, those dried bread cubes are moistened with rich soup stock, plumped up with carrots, celery, onions and sage and stuffed up the backside of a huge Thanksgiving turkey.
In maritime provinces such as Newfoundland, the apparent birthplace of Canadian Thanksgiving, seafood is commonly seen on the Thanksgiving dinner table. Halibut fillets, stuffed with chopped shrimp and leeks, are tied in bundles and grilled as the main event in a Newfie or New Brunswick holiday celebration. Side dishes of oysters and mountains of potatoes finish off the meal nicely.
A somewhat new Thanksgiving dinner fad that has swept the nation’s young adults over the last few years is deep-fried turkey. It’s dangerous, frightening, takes a fraction of the time to cook and requires literally no culinary skill whatsoever. For first-time Thanksgiving dinner hosts, the turkey deep-fryer is a godsend. Just one more thing to be thankful for, eh?
Canadian Thanksgiving – It’s Not About Shopping, It’s About Leftovers
Turkey Day, as many of the locals call it, is not followed up by a crazed day of discount shopping. Instead, since the big family dinner is usually held on Sunday, Canadians have a leisurely Monday filled with reheated stuffing and potatoes, and turkey sandwiches. Canadian Thanksgiving is about being blessed with a bountiful harvest as well enjoying a few more weeks without winter. It’s about relatives overstaying their welcome, cousins terrorizing other cousins’ pets, and everyone avoiding the enormous pile of horribly sticky pots and pans in the sink.
Overall, this uniquely Canadian holiday is about gathering with your loved ones and thanking God, or the farmers, or whichever deity you choose for a wonderful meal as well as all the subsequent meals throughout the year that keep us moving onward and upward.
Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!
Written by Mandy Gardner