Dépaysement: The Story of Canadian Thanksgiving

Dépaysement translates roughly as “change of scenery.”  It translates even more roughly as “The feeling that comes from not being in one’s own country.”

I am an American in Canada.  It takes some getting used to.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in October still sneaks up on me.  I’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November, but here in Canada, Thanksgiving is in early October.  Here’s how this happened:

Martin Frobisher and crew first celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in the eastern Arctic in 1578.

Frobisher was driving his boat around the Arctic in 1576 looking for a northern passage to Asia when he discovered Frobisher Bay. (And wasn’t that an incredible coincidence?!?) He also found some ore he thought might contain gold.

Frobisher spent the next couple of years trying to become rich mining what seemed like gold ore, and attempting to establish the first English settlement in North America.  He failed on both counts, but did manage to celebrate the first North American Thanksgiving, all without Pilgrims and turkeys.

Besides The Frobisher Incident, there is some anecdotal evidence that Canadian Thanksgiving also draws on a tradition started by residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia who celebrated the end of the Seven Year’s War in 1763.  It’s possible the Haligonians actually borrowed the idea from their relatives in Salem, Massachusetts. Some Canadians claim that this explains the introduction of pumpkin pie, turkey, squash, and the four-day weekend into the holiday. Others blame the United States of America for … well, for being the United States of America.

Since 1957, Thanksgiving has been celebrated by decree of Parliament on the second Monday in October.  It used to be earlier, and then for a while it was later.  Thanksgiving Day is proclaimed as “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed,” and is considered a National Holiday in Canada, rather than a religious one.  That’s a little confusing what with all the references to Almighty God and blessings. Oddly, Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday most places in Canada, but in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and (ironically) Nova Scotia it’s an optional holiday.  But that’s how Canadians roll.

After the current date was proclaimed, E.C. Drury, the former “Farmer-Premier” of Ontario lamented that “the farmers’ own holiday has been stolen by the towns” to give them a long weekend when the weather was better.  This did not impress anyone, perhaps in part because Drury was also a founder and leader of a political party with the unfortunate acronym UFO.

Eventually the city of Frobisher Bay was renamed Iqaluit (ee-KWAL-eh-weet) where the population for some time was mostly Inuit trying to subsist on fishing, and US Air Force personnel staffing the DEW line.  This suggests that modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations there occurred at the end of November and involved turkeys and satellite dishes receiving American football.

This year, my curling league starts on Thanksgiving, so we’ll have our family celebration at the end of November and invite a few Canadian friends to join us.

The next day, the Christmas lights go up.


Thanks to The Huffington Post (believe it or not) for this.

Permanent link to this article: http://cateeales.com/2014/10/13/the-story-of-canadian-thanksgiving/

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