To many American, one of the strangest things about that quiet, odd land to the north is that Canadians hold their Thanksgiving celebrations in October, on the second Monday of the month, rather than in November. While similar in many respects – Thanksgiving dinner just isn’t Thanksgiving dinner without turkey no matter where you go – there are some notable differences between Canadian Thanksgiving traditions and American ones. Not mention, there are plenty of Thanksgiving delicacies you can only find in Canada!

Canadian Thanksgiving History

Canadian Thanksgiving history officially begins in 1957, when the second Monday of October was officially declared a statutory holiday. However, the roots of Canadian Thanksgiving traditions go back much further, to traditional harvest festivals and Indigenous fall celebrations.

Arctic explorer Sir Martin Frobisher is largely credited as the first European to organize a Thanksgiving meal in North America in 1578, when he and his crew celebrated a safe landing in the territory now known as Nunavut with a humble meal of ships rations. 

Later, in 1606, Quebec founding father Samuel de Champlain organized a series of fall festivals called the Ordre de Bon Temps, to lift people’s spirits following a winter epidemic and celebrate the safe return of an expedition.

Over the next two centuries, elements of what would become the modern North American Thanksgiving celebration would begin to take shape in British colonies across the east coast. 1621 marked the famous Plymouth Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, with the tradition spreading to Nova Scotia in the 18th century.

The first official Thanksgiving celebrations in the newly confederated state of Canada took place in 1872 to mark the Prince of Wales’s recovery from an illness, and continued to be celebrated on an annual basis starting in 1879

Why is Canadian Thanksgiving in October?

Quite simply, because of the weather. 

While Thanksgiving dates fluctuated quite frequently before the holiday’s official adoption in 1957 – sometimes occurring as late as December – ultimately mid-October celebrations won out in order to enjoy outdoor celebrations before those treacherous early Canadian winters.

Canadian Thanksgiving Food

Fat turkeys, butternut squash, cranberries, though these traditional Thanksgiving mainstays are enjoyed across North America, each province has their own spin on Canadian Thanksgiving food.

For instance, in Newfoundland, no Thanksgiving is complete without Jiggs Dinner. A traditional dish dating back to colonial times, Jiggs Dinner is a favourite of rural Newfoundlanders with boiled salt beef, potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions and cabbage. Served with turkey during Thanksgiving, Jiggs Dinner is named for the central character in a popular comic strip called Bringing Up Father that ran for 87 years from 1913 to 2000.

In British Columbia, Nanaimo Bars serve as the traditional Thanksgiving dessert. One of the most iconic Canadian pastries right up there with Beavertails, Nanaimo Bars are chocolate squares with rich layers of pecans, custard, wafer and coconut crumbs. Originally a local delicacy of the Vancouver Island city of the same name, Nanaimo Bars spread nationwide following their showcase at Expo 86 in Vancouver.

RELATED: Rise of the BeaverTail: Origin of Canada’s Favourite Treat

Speaking of Canadian pastries, another common post-Thanksgiving dinner delight are butter tarts, French-Canadian pastries with a sweet filling of syrup, nuts and/​or raisins that are a mainstay of Action de grâce (Quebec’s Thanksgiving). The recipe for this distinctly French Canadian Thanksgiving food is said to come from the 17th century, when the French crown sponsored 800 women to cross the ocean to help grow the population of New France. Known as les filles de roi (the Daughters of the King), these new settlers brought their traditional recipes with them to the New World, where they gradually evolved and became the sweet treat we enjoy today. 

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