Skip to Content
Thanksgiving in Canada

Thanksgiving Day in Canada

Did you know that the first North American Thanksgiving didn’t involve Pilgrims, or a big ship called The Mayflower, or even take place in the United States? It’s true! In fact, the earliest-known version of Thanksgiving in North America actually took place in Canada more than forty years before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World.

In the 1570s, an English explorer named Sir Martin Frobisher made three voyages to North America. He was in search of an Arctic sailing route to the Far East and India called the Northwest Passage. Frobisher was the first European to sail into what would later be called “Frobisher Bay,” a large inlet on Baffin Island which is located between Greenland and mainland Canada. It was during the third trip in 1578, upon the expedition’s safe return to Newfoundland, that Frobisher and his men celebrated their good fortune with thanks.

In 1879, drawing on Frobisher’s history, as well as the Pilgrims’ 1621 harvest celebration, Parliament proclaimed that Canada would have a “day of General Thanksgiving” each year on the second Monday of October. In America, the shopping phenomenon of “Black Friday” occurs on the day after Thanksgiving, when people swarm the stores and shop for holiday sales. Canadians have those kinds of sales on the day after Christmas, December 26th, also known as Boxing Day.

Despite the differences between the two Thanksgivings, what Canadians and Americans do agree on is the food! In both countries, families gather to eat pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and lots and lots of turkey. French-speaking Montréal is one exception, though. Thanksgiving is called “action de grâce” and the celebratory meal is quite different. You are more likely to find smoked mackerel on the tables there than turkey. The mackerel can be folded into warm potato salad, formed into cakes and topped with tartar sauce, puréed into pâté, or served on toast with cream cheese and pickled onions.

This year we suggest adding smoked mackerel to your family’s usual Thanksgiving menu!