Canadian Thanksgiving: Not much to do with the Pilgrims

mayflowerI never really thought much about the history of Thanksgiving. When I was a kid I learned about the Pilgrims and the Puritans in Plymouth, Massachusetts and I coloured pictures of the Mayflower and turkeys wearing puritan hats. I watched my mom hang corn on the door, ate a big plate of turkey, and recited what I was thankful for but I had no idea of the real facts of our history. Have you ever wondered why Canadian and American Thanksgiving are more than a month apart? Ya. Me too. Now my middle-aged self, who tends to be a little more curious about such things than my younger self, has finally looked into the history of Canadian thanksgiving. Clearly, my whole life has been a sham! I had no idea that Canadian Thanksgiving has very little to do with American Thanksgiving. Why were we never taught our own history? No idea. Maybe it’s because the Puritan hats were so cute. Maybe the story of the Mayflower was much more romantic than that of the Ayde and her 14 sister ships but really, we would do well to make our own history a little better known.

What’s the Ayde, you ask? Well, let me tell you…

frobisher faceThe first recorded formal thanksgiving on what is now Canadian land happened in 1578, long before Confederation. Back when our country was just being discovered, an explorer named Martin Frobisher, was making his third voyage on the flagship Ayde with his fleet of 15 ships from England to Greenland and then through the dangerous and icy waters up the Hudson Strait in search of the Northwest Passage. After nearly losing half the fleet, the ships finally came back together in Frobisher Bay. Frobisher had meant to make a settlement but had lost his ship, the Dennis, which was carrying the building supplies. Considering the odds against them and that they had managed to rendezvous almost unscathed, the chaplain who had traveled with them, Robert Wolfall, gave the first Anglican Eucharist on the new land in celebration and thanks for the safe delivery of the fleet.

sevenyearswarI’m not sure, however, we can truly draw a link from the Frobisher expedition to our current tradition.  It seems more likely that the tradition developed after the Seven Years War in 1763. This war encompassed a large portion of the world and was a major struggle, simply put, between the French and English (for more details on the war see here). At the end of the war, the British were victorious in taking New France. In Nova Scotia a large Thanksgiving celebration was held by the citizens of Halifax. Then, in 1799, in Lower Canada a Thanksgiving observance was held “In signal victory over our enemy and for the manifold and inestimable blessings which our Kingdoms and Provinces have received and daily continue to receive.” In the years following, Thanksgiving celebrations were held without regularity and all times of the year for various reasons – ends of wars, battles, and rebellions, the cessation of illnesses such as cholera,  and simply for God’s mercies.

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoAmerican traditions of the feast entered Canada with the influx of Loyalist refugees after the War of 1812, which ended in 1814. Turkey, pumpkin, squash, and the bounty of the harvest began to be incorporated into the feast. However, it wasn’t until 1859 that “abundance of the harvest” was officially celebrated. Finally, after Confederation in 1867, the first Thanksgiving celebration of a united Canada was held on April 5, 1872 for the recovery of the Prince of Wales. Subsequent “abundance of the harvest” celebrations were held in the fall, usually late October and early November unless there was a significant event to do with the Royals. For example, in June 1887 thanksgiving celebrated the “50th Anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to Throne” and in June 1896 the “Diamond Jubilee of H.M. Queen Victoria”.

After the World War I, starting in 1921 Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada on the Monday of the week in which Armistice Day (November 11th) fell. In 1931, parliament separated Armistice Day (renamed Remembrance Day) and Thanksgiving and each year, until 1957, held Thanksgiving by proclamation usually in early October. Finally, in 1957, Parliament fixed the holiday to the second Monday in October for “…general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured”.

And here we are in 2013, nearly 500 years after Frobisher, still giving thanks for our many blessings, eating lots of turkey (thanks to our American friends), and generally enjoying the bounty of the harvest, the closeness of family, the beautiful fall colours, and the freedoms hard-fought by our ancestors. Of course, none of us would be here if it weren’t for the brave and heroic adventurers who, either on purpose or mistakenly, landed here and began the exploration of this huge uncharted land. Although our history of Thanksgiving is a lot more chaotic than the well-formed folktales of the Mayflower, it is our history to embrace. This Thanksgiving, I think I’ll raise a glass to Martin Frobisher! Who’s with me? Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving 2013

The Canadian Encyclopedia
Canadian Heritage
A Brief History of Canada


His Dream…Our Dream


On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. That was 50 years ago.

Today many of us still hope…

May we, the human race, one day fully realize his dream. May there be the “richness of freedom and the security of justice” for all races and both sexes, not just in America but everywhere in the world. May we finally understand that it is not violence and hatred that will quell the “thirst for freedom” but from a struggle conducted “on the high plane of dignity and discipline”. May one day we all live in liberty and prosperity.

When we “come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny” and “that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” the world will be a much better place.

Peace to you all.

If you’re interested, this movie – 42 – encapsulates  in a gentle but poignant way the struggle for blacks – and whites (with their consciences) – in America in the 1940’s. Extremely well done and enjoyable to watch.

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm

I think I have become a reenactment junky. In fact, my whole family seems to be going down that road. I’m not sure I can tell you precisely what it is that attracts us to these events. Well, actually, I think the thing that propels me the most is bringing live history to my kids. And the venues…the venues are always perfect. These are the places I like to visit anyway. Small towns with loads of history (Spencerville or Sackets Harbor) or pioneer villages (Upper Canada Village). After spending an entire day in Spencerville a few weeks ago, immersed in history, there was no going back. I really have to hand it to the re-enactors too. Boy! Do they know how to put on a show!

Yesterday, late afternoon, we went to Upper Canada Village for their version of the a War of 1812 reenactment called the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. There, there were more than double the number of participants we saw in Spencerville. They had full forces fighting for the U.S. side and for the Crown. At dusk the battle began with a cannon barrage. At the time we were eating our dinner and nearly choked on our food when the first cannon went off! After that the two sides moved onto the battlefield with muskets and the infantry battle began. It wasn’t long before the air filled with smoke from the firing muskets. It became very clear (in a smoky way) how difficult it would have been in battle back then. Not just because the muskets’ aim was very imprecise, not just because the soldiers had to wear wool in the heat and humidity of July…but because you can’t bloody well see what you’re shooting at with all that smoke!

It all ended well anyway. The Crown forces managed to move forward and keep the Americans back…true to history. It will be interesting to see how the story ends in Sackets Harbor on the American side. We will be going there in a few weeks and the kids are already excited. First because it’s their first trip to the United States, and also because they get to see yet another battle. My daughter has asked me to sew her a period dress for the event. Gulp. We’ll have to see about that.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the events from last night. Have a wonderful week.

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In Search of Good News

As of late I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of bad news coming from all over the world. I’m losing sleep over it. Certainly, one could say “At least you’re not losing your life.”. Which, of course, is true. My mere discomfort is really nothing to complain about. I am not alone, however. In this world of fast paced information we can be bombarded with news of mayhem all day long from all corners of the earth. Studies are showing that it is actually affecting our psyche. From a study posted on Medical News Today, it has been proven that watching news on a traumatic event can cause “negative stress reactions or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” in some people (20% of 89 participants). Dr. Ramsden, who conducted the study, concluded:

Acts of violence erode our sense of security and create intense feelings of anger, fear and helplessness. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those who are directly experiencing them can impact on a certain percentage of individuals causing longer lasting effects.

This is not the only study out there. In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States have posted information on their website about PTSD from Media Coverage, what it is, the symptoms and how to deal with it. Imagine, then, the number of stressed, angry, disenchanted, frustrated, fearful people there are in North America alone. Let’s stretch Dr. Ramsden’s study (probably not scientifically sound but let’s do it anyway) to incorporate 20% of 600 million people…that’s a lot of stressed out people! How do you think that affects our communities and society as a whole? Is negative news actually self-propagating?

So this started me thinking. Surely there must be something positive happening somewhere or the world would implode in disaster. I know that in many bad news stories there’s often something that comes out of it that’s positive. For instance a story of a good samaritan, extraordinary bravery, community charity or cooperation, the development of a new law or a leap in medical advances. So I tried surfing the usual news channels for a “happy” news story and came up with very little. Then I discovered the Good News Network but was quickly informed that I’d have to pay for good news. Gee. Bad news is free. Well, now it’s a challenge but I’m up for it. I need a change of scenery, to stop and smell the roses…whatever you want to call it. Do you think an infusion of positive news, at least enough to counterbalance the bad news, might change our outlook, our daily lives, our communities, and perhaps the behaviour of society? I think maybe it might.

So, just to get the ball rolling, I found an article in today’s Globe and Mail on two promising new breast cancer drugs. Studies have found that pertuzumab and afinitor both slow the progression of breast cancer in women who have very advanced cases and have proven to be very safe with only a few moderate side-effects if taken individually. The reaction of doctors?

You don’t see that very often … It’s a spectacular result! ~ Study leader, Sandra Swain, medical director of Washington Hospital Center’s cancer institute

What’s your good news of the day?

More: How the News Impacts Your Health and What you Can Do About it

Science and Scientists: According to a Republican Strategist

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. See it for yourselves and tell me you didn’t laugh your head off…while your chin hits the ground in shock and dismay because this woman is a Republican strategist. Oh…my…god. Save your children!! Don’t let them near science and scientists! They’re all rapists! 😉

The Daily Show – October 26, 2011

(If for some reason you can’t view this video, go to and see the video from October 26th or Go to time mark 5:37.)

For us this 9 11 anniversary should be…

For us, this 9/11 anniversary should be a chance to remember the victims of the horrific crime committed in 2001 and those who died in the wars waged in its wake…. To really do justice to all the 9/11 victims, we can redouble our demands that those who misused their memory to launch illegal wars be prosecuted and jailed. We can also redouble our efforts not to let their murders be the pretext for new wars and ongoing attacks on civil liberties. That is the best way to really serve the memory of all the victims of the past decade’s carnage.

Derrick O’Keefe, Canadian Blogger (

Terrifying Tornados

This morning I listened with horror as they described on the news the terrible storms and tornadoes that ripped through some of the southern US states.I have a sort of horrid fascination with tornadoes, as I suppose most people do. The one that touched down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was reported to be a mile wide and rated a 5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. I can’t even fathom something that big or ferocious. Apparently it was one of 160 tornadoes that hit the area. I’ve never seen a tornado in real life and now that I have children, I’m not at all interested in witnessing a funnel cloud forming. We just experienced wind gusts at 100 km/h which did some serious damage. An EF5 tornado reaches wind speeds three times (or more) than that. I just shake my head. How terrifying.

My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones, and to those who lost their homes to the storms.