“To Newfoundland, the oldest colony of the British Empire, belongs the honor of having the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America. This was in 1578 and was conducted by a clergyman who accompanied the expedition which under Sir Martin Frobisher brought the first British immigrants to the New World. It must have been a stirring and a picturesque ceremony and they had much to be thankful for after their long voyage.” - The Guardian November 9, 1929.
In those days the voyage was a really hazardous adventure. To the perils of the sea in the little ships that were the ancestors of the modern super liners were added the possible attention of buccaneers of the ocean who knew neither flag nor race when they saw a chance to plunder, as well as the navy of the nation which happened at the time be at war.
Canada was somewhat slow to take up the idea of Thanksgiving Day. It is true that churches observed the harvest festival but Thanksgiving does not seem to have been a national day of celebration until October 9, 1870 when it was ordained that a day of general thanksgiving should be held.
There had been days of observance of Thanksgiving for special events before this. Upper Canada (Ontario) proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in June 1816 to mark the close of the Napoleonic Wars, while a day of Thanksgiving for the whole of Canada was proclaimed on March 1, 1872 for the restoration to health of the then Albert (the Town of Alberton is named in his honour), Prince of Wales who was afterwards was King Edward VII.
In the early days of the 1900s, Canada’s Thanksgiving Day was made to correspond with that of the United States and there were some advantages in this arrangement. But it was felt the date chosen by the US, the last Thursday in November, was too late to serve the original purpose of Canada’s celebration of thanksgiving, a thanksgiving for the harvest and, instead, a Thursday in October was chosen for a year or two. Afterwards to suit the convenience of travellers and others whose business took them away from home, a Monday was chosen.
During the 1921 session of Canada’s Parliament someone hit upon the happy idea of having Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day observed on the same day and the date was fixed as the Monday in which November 11 occurs.
Canada as we have it was born of hardship and human sacrifice. We are, as some would claim, the Chosen People. Bring on the turkey or must it be a bird of paradise before we admit gratitude? Originally, with the pioneers, Thanksgiving was a solemn occasion, a day for thanks that providence had blessed with abundant crops to preserve them from starvation.
If we pause to ponder our material prosperity, unprecedented in any other country or any previous civilization in mankind’s long history, we realize we have reasons galore for thanks. If the early pioneers had our brand of prosperity, our standard of living, they’d have thought they had passed into the Promised Land. So, Thanksgiving Day has become for Canada a day of real thanksgiving.