When is Thanksgiving Day?

When is Thanksgiving Day? – It seems very strange that the Governor has not yet proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day for the present year.  There surely never was a year during which we as a people here received greater cause to be thankful. Three times have we been threatened with lawless invasion, and still we are saved from the devastations of war.  The dryness of the spring, the coolness of the summer, and the wet weather of the harvest threatened to destroy our crops, but out barns are filled plenty. Cholera has afflicted nearly every other nation, whilst we have been mercifully spared. Add to these the opening of a market after the abolition of the Reciprocity Treaty, the good prices obtained for our produce, the preservation of the land from internal dissentions, and we have a year which God has marked by a great display of his Providential care and goodness towards us.

Oshawa Vindicator, November 14, 1866

Why was there confusion about Thanksgiving Day? In Canada, Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, right? Well, it’s only been observed consistently on that day since 1957.

The origins and basis for Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t as well known as the American holiday.  It is important to note that Indigenous people have had celebrations of thanks for good harvest and successfully faring through the winter well before the arrival of colonizing settlers.

Canadian Thanksgiving is frequently tied to the story of Martin Frobisher who was one of many to search for the Northwest Passage.  He made three attempts, and on his third in 1578, there was a celebration on what is now known as Frobisher Island.  Another possible origin for the holiday could be the harvest celebrations that occurred in New France in the 1600s.  The popularity of Thanksgiving increased in the late 1700s/early 1800s upon the arrival of United Empire Loyalists.  While ‘Thanksgiving’ was being celebrated, it was informal, being recognised by those celebrating and not as a publicly recognised holiday.

Regarding the article that appeared in the Vindicator in 1866, Thanksgiving had been declared by the Governor General for the Province of Canada (today’s Ontario and Quebec) six times between 1850 and 1865 for specific reasons, as follows:

Date of ObservanceReasons
Thursday, 3 Jan. 1850For God’s mercies and cessation of grievous disease
Wednesday, 4 June 1856For restoration of Peace with Russia
Thursday, 3 Nov. 1859For abundant harvest and continuation of Peace
Thursday, 6 Dec. 1860For God’s mercies
Wednesday, 11 Nov. 1863For abundant harvest and continuation of Peace
Wednesday, 18 Oct. 1865For God’s mercies

As it wasn’t a consistent holiday, it’s no wonder the editors of the paper were questioning if and when the holiday would have been declared.

Thanksgiving Day has been observed every year since 1879.  Initially, Thanksgiving was held on a Thursday in November, but in 1957, it was officially declared to be the second Monday in October.

The changing date of Thanksgiving was noted on in the diaries of a man named William Elliot. The diaries are part of the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum. An entry dated November 25, 1896 lists that day as Thanksgiving Day, an indication that it was at the same time as the American Thanksgiving during this time period. However an entry from October 15, 1903 is listed as Thanksgiving Day, and in 1913 it is mentioned on October 20.

You can read the diaries on the Oshawa Museum’s website.


Sources:

https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/arts-culture-society/the-history-of-thanksgiving-in-canada

https://web.archive.org/web/20130628210214/http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/jfa-ha/graces-eng.cfm

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