Canadian Thanksgiving

Second Monday of October.

Newfoundland and Nova Scotia each lay claim to Thanksgiving celebrations even older than the Pilgrims of Massachusetts.

English navigator Martin Frobisher enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal on Baffin Island in 1578, and Samuel de Champlain established an “Order of Good Cheer” in 1606, after most of his men died out the previous winter from scurvy and malnutrition.

But according to Robert Ruby, author of An Unknown Shore: The Lost History of England’s Arctic Colony, neither event can be linked to the modern celebration of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the Americas traces its history back to good old England, where Thanksgiving Days were declared not just for agricultural bounty, but for military victories as well. King Henry V held a Thanksgiving after a victory against France in 1415. Queen Elizabeth declared Thanksgiving in November 1588, upon hearing of the destruction of the Spanish Armada near Scotland.

The first annual English Thanksgiving was declared on November 5, 1605 (now Guy Fawkes Day) which celebrated the foiling of the infamous terrorist’s plot to destroy London.

English Puritans meanwhile refused to observe the many Saints Days celebrated in England, which they believed were contaminated by Europe’s pagan past. Rather, Puritans only recognized holy days observed by Jesus, such as the Feast of the Tabernacles in autumn. And they carried this harvest tradition across the Atlantic.

After the Seven-Years War, residents of Halifax declared a Thanksgiving for their victory. This, combined with the influx of Loyalists from the lower 13 colonies during the American Revolution, solidified Thanksgiving’s status as an annual holiday, though the date changed several times.

Thanksgiving was declared a Canadian national holiday in 1879. After WWI, Armistice Day and Thanksgiving merged to form one holiday. The two became independent holidays in 1931.

Commonwealth Day

Second Monday in March
March 12, 2012

Here’s a geography quiz:

1. What is the official language of Belize?

2. Whose portrait adorns the Canadian loonie?

3. What comprises 53 countries, covers over a fifth of the world’s land area, and accounts for 2 billion of the earth’s population?

If you answered

  1. English.
  2. Queen Elizabeth II
  3. The British Commonwealth

you got 1 and 2 right. The word ‘British’ was axed from The Commonwealth to reflect the fact that 98% of its subjects are not British at all, and 93% of the Commonwealth’s population live in Asia and Africa.

Today because of British influence in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, English is an official language of over 50 countries, including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Madagascar, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Liberia, Jamaica, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, The Gambia, Mauritius, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Guyana, the Solomon Islands, Malta, the Bahamas, Barbados, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Kiribati, Grenada, Seychelles, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru. (Note: not all the above are in the Commonwealth.)

Views around the web on Commonwealth Day…

Our integration with our continental neighbours has had the effect of weakening our ties with our Commonwealth friends.


…a staggering 1,921,974,000 people around the world will be celebrating Commonwealth Day, unless that is you’re British. We Brits it seems still suffer from an imperialist hangover, too embarrassed (dare I say ashamed?)…


The origins of Commonwealth Day date back to 1898 when Clementina Trenholme, author and social organiser, introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools on the last school day before May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday…In 1958 Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day, in accordance with the new post-colonial relationship between the nations of the former empire…


Louis Riel Day

3rd Monday in February

Manitoba flag

Lunatic or a Patriot? The Voice of God or an Enemy of the People?

Nope, not George Bush, we’re talking about another controversial figure, whose life is celebrated today in Manitoba.

Louis Riel was a leader of the Metis people of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and of French-Canadian Catholics.

Riel studied to become a priest and then a lawyer, but did not complete either training. Still, his education and his powerful speaking abilities allowed him to become the mouthpiece of the Metis people.

The Metis were the descendants of the native peoples of Manitoba and early French-Canadian settlers.

In the 1860s the Canadian government was preparing to absorb a large territory ‘owned’ by the Hudson Bay Company. Riel’s homeland, the Red River Colony, was within the territory’s bounds, and the Metis people feared they would lose autonomy over the their own land.

“As tensions mounted among the Metis it was clear that strong leadership was needed. Riel’s experiences during the past ten years had produced a life-style very different from that of the buffalo-hunting Metis, but it was these people he now aspired to lead…Riel — ambitious, well-educated, bilingual, young and energetic, eloquent, deeply religious, and the bearer of a famous name — was more than willing to provide what the times required.”

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

The term “Red River Rebellion” is used to describe the events of 1869-1870, when Riel led a provisional government that opposed the surveying of their land by the Canadian government and occupied the Canadian Upper Fort Garry.

The rebellion was mostly bloodless, but during this time Riel ordered the controversial execution of Thomas Scott, a Protestant Orangeman from Ontario, originally from Northern Ireland. Scott had taken part in an action against Riel’s men and had been taken prisoner in an attempt to rescue a local Canadian leader named JC Schultz.

After the Rebellion Sir John A. MacDonald, concerned about the possibility of the land being annexed by Minnesota, placated the Metis with the creation of the provence of Manitoba. But the Protestant outcry over the Thomas Scott killing was strong. MacDonald refused to grant clemency to Louis Riel for his role in the execution.

(left) Louis Riel, circa 1875; (right) His children Jean-Louis and Angelique, 1880

Riel spent the next 14 years in exile, in Quebec, New England and the American Midwest. He was elected twice to parliament by Quebec, but could not take his seat in Ottawa on account of the warrant for his arrest.

In 1884 Riel was teaching school in Montana when he was approached by some Metis representatives from Saskatchewan who asked for his help in negotiating for their land rights with Canada.

What they may not have known was that during the intervening years Riel had spent time in mental institutions and became increasingly convinced that he had been chosen by God to lead his people.

The second Rebellion was not as bloodless as the first. In the end Riel was placed on trial for treason. Riel refused his lawyers pleas to declare himself not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty, and though the jury recommended mercy on his behalf, the judge ordered his execution. It has been said that Riel was found guilty of treason, but was executed for the murder of Thomas Scott.

Riel testifies at his trial, 1885

In those years and the decades following his death Riel was painted as an insane megalomaniac traitor by the mostly Protestant Canadian media. However he remained a hero and symbol of nationalism to the Metis people and many French-Canadians

Also today, the third Monday in February, Alberta residents celebrate “We’re not Saskatchewan Day.”

OK, not really, but..

Boxing Day

December 26

St. Stephen

“In London and other places, St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, is familiarly known as Boxing-day, from its being the occasion on which those annual guerdons known as Christmas-boxes are solicited and collected…

The Book of Days

As a child I thought it odd that the British, so seemingly refined (compared to us their American cousins), would dedicate the day after Christmas to such a brutal and pugilistic sport. Yet there it was on the calendar: “Boxing Day – UK”.

Apparently the holiday has very little to do with the sport, but everything to do with gift-giving. And no, it’s not about boxing up all the gifts you don’t want so you can return them to the store either.

According to The Book of Days (1882)…

“The institution of Christmas-boxes is evidently akin to that of New-year’s gifts, and, like it, has descended to us from the times of the ancient Romans, who, at the season of the Saturnalia, practised universally the custom of giving and receiving presents. The fathers of the church denounced, on the ground of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians; but their anathemas had little practical effect, and in process of time, the custom of Christmas-boxes and New-year’s gifts, like others adopted from the heathen, attained the position of a universally recognised institution. The church herself has even got the credit of originating the practice of Christmas-boxes…

“…Christmas-boxes are still regularly expected by the postman, the lamplighter, the dustman, and generally by all those functionaries who render services to the public at large, without receiving payment therefor from any particular individual. There is also a very general custom at the Christmas season, of masters presenting their clerks, apprentices, and other employes, with little gifts, either in money or kind.

“St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, being the customary day for the claimants of Christmas-boxes going their rounds, it has received popularly the designation of Boxing-day.”

Boxing-night was a night of much joy and revelry. The Book of Days goes on to tell us that “the theatres are almost universally crowded to the ceiling on Boxing-night” as the pockets of the working class are stuffed with recently received year-end bonuses.

You can also find some packed pubs and bars on Boxing Day, as celebrants, having spent 24-48 hours with family, join their friends to bid a fond farewell to the Christmas season, if not the Christmas spirit.

[Of course , Boxing Day is actually only the second day of the twelve days of Christmas, so the season doesn’t technically end until Epiphany on January 6.]

My 1st Canadian Thanksgiving

2nd Monday in October

This weekend I shared something with my one year-old niece: our first Canadian Thanksgiving. She was born just after Thanksgiving last year.

The most glaring difference I’ve noticed between Thanksgiving in the U.S. and in Canada is that Canadian Thanksgiving is on a Monday. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

In the process of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, I have learned a few other things about our Canuck brethren and sisteren.

1. Conservatives are blue and liberals are red, which when you think about it, makes more sense.

2. Election season in Canada is only SIX WEEKS LONG! Two years less than what we’ve had to endure south of the border.

3. It’s traditional for the Finance Minister to wear brand-new shoes when presenting the new budget.

4. Saskatchewan, despite its reputation as a barren wasteland, is the sunniest province in Canada. (Which is like being the rainiest place in the Sahara.)

5. Ottawa is the second or third coldest capital in the world, tied with Moscow, and right behind Ulan Batar, Mongolia.

6. Terrence & Philip is not a real TV show.

No Thanksgiving would be complete without breakfast at the Dutch Wooden Shoe Pannekoek House

We celebrated like true Canucks, enjoying breakfast at the Dutch Wooden Shoe Pannekoek House. In the afternoon we followed the age old wisdom of Canadian superstar Robin Sparkles…

[published October 13, 2008]

Labor Day

1st Monday in September 

I have to say the name’s misleading. The whole point is not to labor on Labor Day, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be Leisure Day or Play Day? But then I guess it would defeat the purpose of honoring the workers–past and present–who make it possible to BBQ on this day.

Scores of countries and billions of people celebrate Labor Day on May Day (May 1) but the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand just had to be different.

By the 1880s May 1 had become a traditional day for workers to unite and go on strike, strikes which led to progressive social measures, but also violence between workers and police. The most notable example being the Haymarket Riot of 1886.

The Anarchist Riot in Chicago, Harpers Bizarre, May 15, 1886
The Anarchist Riot in Chicago, Harper's Bizarre, May 15, 1886

Pressure was on for the creation of a Federal Holiday honoring the workers of America. President Grover Cleveland wanted to appease workers’ organizations by creating an official Labor Day, but the political establishment was afraid a May 1 holiday would strengthen socialist solidarity and forever bring attention to violent May Day clashes like Haymarket, leading to much such demonstrations in the future.

In 1886 Cleveland instituted a national Labor Day, but moved it to the first Monday in September. (The Central Labor Union of New York had been celebrating an autumnal Labor event since 1882.)

It worked. Today few Americans recall the Haymarket riots, but we use Labor Day to bid farewell to the glorious days of summer. Labor Day means back-to-school for kids, don’t wear white for the fashion conscious (although this too is fading), and time to host that last big barbecue before bequeathing the grill back to the spiders.

At least till Memorial Day

Happy Moving Day! I mean Canada Day

July 1

C’mon Jessica, C’mon Tori,
let’s go to the mall you won’t be sorry.
Dad says I’m too young to date.
But baby I don’t wanna wait…
That’s okay…
I’m gonna rock your body till Canada Day.

Let’s Go To the Mall,” Canadian National Anthem

Canada Day isn’t an anniversary of independence but of unity. On July 1, 1867 the colonies of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia united to form “one dominion under the name of Canada”. The day was known as Dominion Day until 1982 when it was officially changed to Canada Day–although the populace had long since taken to calling it Canada Day.

On this, the 142th anniversary of the first Canada Day, we ask: “Where did Canada get its name?”

According to, “Canada” means:

  1. An Indian word meaning ‘Suburb of Detroit’.
  2. George St. Pierre, the UFC Welterweight Champion of the World. Yea baby!!!
  3. Place where Americans come to ask stupid questions.

Another theory of the origin of Canada’ is that it is an Wendat (Huron/Iroquois) word meaning ‘village’ or ‘collection of huts’. The Wendat were a confederacy of four tribes who spoke the same language in what is now Ontario and Quebec.

According to the Department of Canadian Heritage, in 1535 explorer Jacques Cartier was mapping the area north of the present-day St. Lawrence River when…

“two Indian Youths told Jacques Cartier about the route to ‘kanata.’ They were referring to the village of Stadacona…but for want of another name, Cartier used “Canada” to refer not only to Stadacona (the site of present day Quebec City), but also to the entire area subject to its chief, Donnacona.”

Cartier named the St. Lawrence River the ‘riviere de Canada’, and by 1547, maps of the area labeled the land north of that river “Canada”.

Though this theory is widely accepted, some dispute its accuracy, suggesting that the Hurons didn’t occupy the area at the time of Cartier’s exploration.

Another theory is that Spanish explorers wrote “aca nada” on their maps, meaning ‘nothing here’.

The arguments are moot in Quebec, where most of the populace doesn’t celebrate Canada Day at all. Rather, in Quebec, July 1 is better known as “Moving Day.” Since 1971, apartment leases there have begun and ended on Canada’s national holiday.

D-Day Anniversary

June 6


D-Day: Cargo Vehicles

“The eyes of the world are upon you.”

from General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s statement to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, June 1944

June 6 marks the anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy that precipitated the long and brutal campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi power.

The invasion, also known as Operation Overlord, involved the landing of approximately 160,000 Allied troops, including U.S., U.K, Free French, Canadian, and Australian forces, in a single day along the heavily fortified Normandy coast. The day was scheduled to be June 5, but unfavorable weather conditions forced the landing back a day.

Contrary to popular belief, D-Day doesn’t stand for Debarkation Day.

“In fact, it does not stand for anything. The ‘D’ is derived from the word ‘Day.’ ‘D-Day’ means the day on which a military operation begins.”

Operation Overlord referred to the entire operation from the initial assault on June 6 to the crossing of the River Seine on August 19. Operation Neptune referred the beginning of the invasion, covering the assault on the beaches, and ended on June 30.

Then there was the lesser known “Operation Fortitude”. Operation Fortitude entailed a massive invasion through the narrowest point in the English Channel by the “First US Army Group” led by General George S. Patton.

D-Day: Invasion

Operation Fortitude was, needless to say, entirely made-up. A fictitious assault created to mislead the Germans into thinking the invasion would occur at another location. Secrecy was essential as the Germans had 55 divisions at their command in France, and the Allies could only land a maximum of 8 at any one time. Keeping the world’s largest invasion a secret was a feat almost as remarkable as the invasion itself. It required the Allies win complete dominance over UK airspace—Allied air forces suffered tremendous losses in the two months before the invasion in order to make this so. It required the UK to ferret out all German spies within their ranks and region and to force known spies to send misinformation back home.

The deception went so far as to set up a fake base for the “First U.S. Army Group” in England opposite the suspected landing site, complete giant rubber tanks, cardboard weapons, a paper mache oil pump, and scripted radio chatter.

D-Day: Wounded by the Chalk Cliffs

General Patton was an obvious choice for the fictitious assault. The Germans assumed Patton—one of the U.S. most capable generals—could lead such an operation. However, Patton had been disciplined for a “slapping” incident, something the Germans found difficult to believe was true. (It was.)

“Fortitude succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Long after June 6th, Hitler remained convinced that the Normandy Landings were a diversionary tactic to induce him to move his troops away from the Pas-de-Calais…He therefore kept his best units in readiness there, until the end of July…”

Normandie Memoire, Operation Fortitude

Within five days, over 325,000 troops had landed in Normandy.

The exact number of casualties and soldiers killed on D-Day itself are difficult to ascertain due to the large scale and complexity of the operation, and the conditions under which it was fought. Traditional estimates put the number of Allied casualties at 10,000 with the number of deaths accounting for a quarter of that.  More recent estimates have put the number of dead alone at over 4400, a little over half of that figure Americans.

D-Day: German Troops Surrender

“These men came here — British and our allies, and Americans — to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom… Many thousands of men have died for such ideals as these… but these young boys… were cut off in their prime… I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, and pray, that humanity will have learned… we must find some way… to gain an eternal peace for this world.”

— Former President Eisenhower at the 20th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. (The D-Day Companion: Leading Historians Explore History’s Greatest Amphibious Assault)


D-Day: Monument

65th Anniversary of D-Day on the Normandy Beaches