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”

P.P.S. – If you found this blog offensive, see my Blog, “The Perils Of Humor”

I (heart) NY – Part 2 (my grand plan)

    I have an idea.

Everyone should be on vacation all the time.  People are relaxed, smiling, and enjoying themselves.  folks are less hurried, and prone to cooler heads.  We’re all a bit more agreeable when we’re on vacation.

Imagine if we conducted ourselves every day as if we were on a leisurely vacation!  Leave the ‘crackberry’ at home (or accidentally back over it with the RV), sleep in, have a coffee while reading the paper or favourite book in the warm morning sun…probably not very good for productivity, but hey, all great ideas need some compromise.

Now, I’m not so naive as to suggest that this is all possible, or even everyone’s idea of Valhalla.

I’m sure the ‘A’ types out there are breaking out in a cold sweat at such a suggestion.  ‘What?  No e-mail?  My head would explode!’

Here’s an alternative – maybe we could work different jobs on a rotational basis?  If you work in an office in the city, your rotation might be working the rental counter at a Moped shop in Spain, or busking on Coney Island.  The people who do this for a living take our jobs, slogging it out in traffic, wearing business attire in artificial air and light, or slugging heavy boxes in a hot factory all day long.

There might be a few jobs that this wouldn’t work so well on.  Specialized jobs, like the one my friend has, working in a nuclear power plant.  Pretty sure I wouldn’t want a pot-smoking, t-shirt street vendor in charge of highly dangerous radioactive material, even for a short while.

And I really don’t want to have an accountant serving me Mojito’s at one of those swim-up bars.  they’d scrimp on the rum for sure!

Okay, so maybe this idea needs a little more vetting before I can pitch it to the UN as a world peace initiative, but it has merit all the same.

Tell me you wouldn’t want to be in charge of the ‘start’ button on a roller coaster ride, or feed the dolphins at Sea World….I’ll bet you’re smiling already, aren’t you?

So there you have it – a brief mental vacation courtesy or yours truly.  You can thank me by offering to trade jobs some time….as long as you’re not a garbage collector!

I (heart) NY – part 1 of my summer vacation blog

We just returned from a short trip to New York City, and we’re on our way up to cottage country for a few days, so this will be a ‘mini-blog’ about our driving trip to Manhattan.

What an awesome part of the country!  Driving from the Eastern Toronto area around Lake Ontario, crossing the border at the 1,000 Islands area of New York State, all the way down to Manhattan was a long, but scenic trip.Scenic Drive

The area south of Syracuse, in through the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey is a stunning drive.  Have your camera out (and have someone other than the driver taking the pictures).

With the help of a great navigation system in the car, we made it to Mid-town Manhattan without any scary detours – traffic in New Jersey, and getting into the Lincoln Tunnel was jammed, but otherwise the drive was smooth.

Manhattan is an amazing assault on the senses – all of them!  Brilliant colors, huge buildings, noisy streets, crowded sidewalks, pungent smells (especially in the late afternoon when the garbage bags hit the sidewalks…yikes!).

We signed up for a bus-tour of the city, which I highly recommend for first-time visitors, since there’s way too much to see on any short visit.  Our guide, ‘Dominic’, was a larger than life New Yorker, with the thick New York accent, sarcastic sense of humor, and great love of his home.Dominic in action

Unashamed, a touch crude, and willing to share the real history of the growth and changes of Manhattan, Dominic was the best of 3 guides we had during the tours.

We didn’t have enough time to do more than scratch the surface of this incredible place, so we’ll have to come back again with better walking shoes and more time.

Here are some observations that I gathered during this short trip:

  • New Yorkers are WAY more friendly and helpful than they want you to believe
  • The most important part of the car in New York is the horn (followed by the brakes)
  • After walking around Manhattan, I know where they got the inspiration for the video game ‘Frogger’
  • If you want to see the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and goes right past it
  • You could spend a week in Times Square and not see everything
  • The free enterprise system is flourishing in the U.S.  We saw ‘business owners’ who had no more than a 2′ space between buildings to set up their stores, selling belts, sunglasses, and cell phone accessories – everyone has something to sell
  • Businesses don’t fail here; they ‘fall on hard times’
  • If you’re on a bus tour in the summer – bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water, although there are always vendors selling cold bottled water at most stops – they’ll even pass it up to you on poles from the street!
  • Get some cupcakes from ‘Crumbs’ just off 8th Ave (around 40th).  Yum!

Suggestions for my American Friends (with all due respect):

  • What’s with the water pressure in Manhattan?  Spend a few bucks on water pumps –  the water towers aren’t working
  • There’s gotta be a better way to deal with the garbage – especially during the hottest days of summer – WHEW!!
  • Drivers on the I – 81 need to learn how to use cruise control

Go to New York if you get the chance – I promise you’ll want to go back again!

That’s it for this part of my summer vacation – next stop is my brother’s cottage up in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario…talk about a change in scenery!