Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account

This weekend, Canada will celebrate it’s 56th official Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.

Up here in the ‘Great White North’ we honour this event on the second Monday of October, not because our season is shorter, and we’ve harvested the crops already, but we really just wanted to beat the Americans at something.

Canada is relatively new at this as an actual holiday, having made it official in 1957. I guess being the polite sorts we are, we didn’t want to offend anyone by being officially thankful without making sure everyone was okay with it.

The original conception for the Canadian Thanksgiving, by my recollection, actually started way back in the 1500’s, when an explorer named Martin Frobisher had loaded his boats with what some historians believe was maple syrup (some insist it was gold, but that would ruin the story – you’ll see what I mean).  He ran into the ice and the sailors had to be saved by the local indigenous people.  By some strange twist of fate, he hit the ice in Frobisher Bay.  Huh.

Most of the syrup was lost, but the kind and gentle natives who witnessed the accident, had a big supply of Canadian back bacon and decided to share it with the sweet-toothed explorers.  Of course, Canada hadn’t been invented yet, so it wasn’t called Canadian back bacon at the time.

Some of the maple syrup that leaked from the ships, froze into smallish disks on the ice and the locals would hit them with their hunting spears. The syrup ‘pucks’ would slide across the ice, giving birth to our greatest national pastime, hockey.  Others would eat the tasty frozen treat, which was delicious, but they had to be careful not to get hit with one of the spears.  This probably led to the hockey helmet being invented.

Hockey, another gift from our First Nations people, accidentally led to the expansion westward from Quebec City, when the natives and explores were playing hockey with frozen syrup on the St. Lawrence river.  One of the explorers got a breakaway, and because they hadn’t invented goalies or nets yet, skated all the way to what is now known as Kingston.

The explorers were so pleased and thankful for this discovery, that they decided to take all the land from the indigenous people, and throw a huge party for themselves.

Although this all happened in the middle of winter, the English and French settlers argued about when to hold this annual celebration.  The French wanted it in October, the time of year that they bamboozled the generous locals into giving up their bountiful harvest.  The English wanted it in the spring, because this is when the river thawed out, and they were able to paddle in-land and take over a significant part of the country.  Then, the English changed their minds, and decided November was a better time for this, since it’s when they officially pilfered the land.

For a long time, the celebration was held on different dates, until the English decided that they wanted a special day to mark the taking over of the country with a separate war-related holiday, thus giving in to the French.  As it turns out, this was the first (and maybe only) time that the French ever actually won anything.

In a weird twist of cultural irony, it is Quebec, our French-speaking province that does not view our modern Thanksgiving celebration as an official holiday.  This is because, when the rest of English Canada got on board with the October feast, Quebec immediately abandoned it, siting a need to be a distinct society.

The precursor to our Thanksgiving in October is another celebration brought over by the Germans, who oddly enough, had nothing to do with the take-over of this land.  Anyway, it was the October festival, known as ‘Oktoberfest’, celebrated in major cities, but primarily hosted in Kitchener, Ontario because of its large German population, that is considered one of our unofficial kick-offs to Thanksgiving.  I mean, what says ‘Let’s get this party started’ more than drinking too much beer while wearing leather shorts?

Today, our modern Thanksgiving is celebrated in a very similar fashion to that of our American cousins.  Families gather for the long weekend to dine, close the pools and cottages, rake leaves, and spend time together. They eat themselves into a tryptophan induced coma with turkey and ham, and all the usual fixings, like stale bread stuffed into the backside of a dead bird.  Sometimes, it defies explanation how these traditions came about.

Unlike our American counterparts, we may not have the big football game, or the official kick-off to the Christmas season, but we, in very Canadian style, reenact some of our unique history by watching English and French millionaire athletes chase a puck around the frozen pond. They don’t use syrup any more, and instead, in a back-handed, slightly racist tip of the hat to our First Nations people kind of way, use an ‘Indian rubber’ puck.

I can’t confirm that all of the historical points above are completely accurate – I slept through most of grade 9 Canadian History class.  I do know that I can’t wait to head up north where the air is crisp and clean, the leaves are blazing with colour, and we’ll give thanks for the awesome country we live in at a family cottage, while feasting on the above-mentioned turkey and stuffing.

Wherever or whenever, or even however you celebrate Thanksgiving, my wish to you is that you celebrate it with good friends and family, and that you take a moment to reflect not only on what you’re thankful for, but  who you’re thankful to.

Wishing all of you a happy and safe Canadian Thanksgiving, eh!

P.S. – for handy tips on how NOT to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving, see my Blog “Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions”   https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/folklore-flaming-turkeys-and-family-traditions/

P.P.S. – If you found this blog offensive, see my Blog, “The Perils Of Humor”  https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-perils-of-humor/

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14 thoughts on “Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account

  1. Pingback: Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account | The Lighter Side of Life

  2. What a great read to start the weekend off smiling 🙂 Oktoberfest & Thanksgiving together in one weekend – good times! #childhoodmemories #OktoberfestIstWunderbar

  3. My Dad always used frozen horse turds for pucks way back when. This is why goalie masks were invented. One shot to the face and it was “get me a mask!”
    Using frozen maple syrup pucks would eventually lead to the phrase ” that was a sweet goal!”
    Happy Turkey Day!

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