English explorer Martin Frobisher successfully established a settlement in North America. The originally journey in 1576 was undertaken with three small 20 ton wooden ships that held a combined crew of 35 men. Only one of the ships survived the two thousand miles of unforgiving ocean. Frobisher would make this journey and the returning voyage two more times. A feat certainly to be celebrated and Frobisher thought so too. So, in 1578, Frobisher held a ceremony in what is now Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journeys. This day is acknowledged to be the first Canadian Thanksgiving. Future settlers arriving to Canada soon after would continue this tradition of thanks.
Present-day Canada continued to grow, with French settlers arriving with explorer and founder of New France and Quebec, Samuel de Champlain. They had a similar appreciation of their own survival and also held huge feasts of thanks. At the time scurvy was believed to be caused by idleness, so Champlain built upon these festivities by also adding active entertainment and calling the event “The Order of Good Cheer”, which first took place on November 14, 1606.
Americans who remained loyal to England during the American Revolution moved to Canada bringing their own traditions with them. These traditions included the continued harvest celebration, later recognized as the American Thanksgiving, which was originally shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony. There were already many similarities between the two feasts including the cornucopia and pumpkin pie. The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony was held in 1621, 43 years after Martin Frobisher’s celebration, and it included a staple of today’s celebrations: the turkey. There had been an abundance of wild turkeys in at Plymouth Colony which were not originally the highlight of the meal, but quickly took prominence in the feasts that followed in both Canada and the United States.
In 1879, Canadian Parliament made November 6 a national holiday and called it Thanksgiving Day. Following WWI, Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day were celebrated on the first Monday after November 11. In 1931, the two days were separated and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day. On January 31, 1957 Parliament declared, “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed… to be observed on the second Monday in October.”
The tradition of Thanksgiving has changed over time, with a much larger focus being put on a large meal and football. Whether it is a time to eat, a time to spend with family, or a time to rest, Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful time of year to stop and remember all the things we are truly thankful for.