Proclaimed by Parliament in 1879 as “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed,” Thanksgiving draws upon 3 traditions: harvest celebrations in European peasant societies for which the symbol was the cornucopia (horn of plenty); formal observances, such as that celebrated by Martin FROBISHER in the eastern Arctic in 1578–the first North American Thanksgiving–in which Frobisher and his crew gave thanks for their well-being; and the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first harvest in Massachusetts (1621) involving the uniquely American turkey, squash and pumpkin.
The celebration was brought to Nova Scotia in the 1750s and the citizens of Halifax commemorated the end of the SEVEN YEARS’ WAR (1763) with a day of Thanksgiving. Loyalists brought the celebration to other parts of the country. Starting in 1879, Thanksgiving was officially celebrated annually in Canada. Parliament declared 6 Nov 1879 as a day of Thanksgiving; it was celebrated as a national rather than a religious holiday. Later and earlier dates were observed, the most popular being the third Monday in Oct. After the First World War, Thanksgiving and Armistice (later Remembrance) Day were celebrated in the same week. It was not until 31 Jan 1957 that Parliament proclaimed the observance of Thanksgiving on the second Monday in Oct. E.C. DRURY, the former “Farmer-Premier” of Ontario lamented later that “the farmers’ own holiday has been stolen by the towns” to give them a long weekend when the weather was better.
A large crowd outside the church in Denain, France, where a service of thanksgiving was held Oct 1918 to commemorate the town’s deliverance by Canadian troops. It was attended by HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, and General Sir Arthur Currie (courtesy Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-40239 and PA-40240).
The First Thanksgiving Disputed
Some people have argued that the ceremony of giving thanks celebrated by Martin Frobisher was not a “real” Thanksgiving. The argument stems from the reason for giving thanks; according to American disputes of the Canadian claim to the first Thanksgiving, the holiday can only refer to the history of the harvest. Europeans who brought the tradition to the New World did mark the day by giving thanks for a successful harvest. However, the Canadian and American holidays are no longer restricted to harvest activities but have become a day for gathering family to give thanks for their general well-being. One might observe that the tradition has come full circle.
Author DAVID MILLS Revised: LAURA NEILSON / http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com