various pumpkins near bail of hay - thanksgiving - fall

How to Celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving on Vancouver Island

When you think of Thanksgiving in North America, most people think of pilgrim outfits, pumpkin pie, the Mayflower and feast re-enactments between pilgrims and American Indians – typical images from many Hollywood movies and American TV shows. While Canadian Thanksgiving shares many similarities with the American holiday, here things are decidedly more low-key and have a different origin story than that of the US. The Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada is filled with delicious food and incredible Thanksgiving Day dinner, fun fall activities, cherished TV events and dates all the way back to 1578 – almost 45 years before the feast at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts! So, if you’re thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving in Canada, and especially if you’re going to be spending it in beautiful BC, here are all the things you need to know before you go! 

Book the Perfect Holiday Accommodation with EMR

If you’re going to be celebrating Thanksgiving in BC you’ll need the perfect, comfortable holiday accommodation! Whether you’re planning on spending this long weekend on Vancouver Island, a Gulf Island or on the Sunshine Coast, EMR Vacation Rentals is the place to find your perfect short term rental! At EMR Vacation Rentals, there are properties for anything you need, from low maintenance condos and gorgeous penthouses to luxury country homes and waterfront properties perfect for family getaways! No matter how you want to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, we’ve got you covered!

The History

Forty-three years before the first Thanksgiving in America and only one year after the pilgrims landed the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, 16th century privateer and explorer Martin Frobisher held a feast on his ship to give thanks and celebrate the safe landing of his fleet in Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada after an unsuccessful attempt to find the Northwest Passage. 

In 1606, the inhabitants of New France – now Québec – under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain held a large feast between the French occupants and the Mi’kmaq First Nations that included cranberries. Rich in vitamin C, cranberries were a cure for scurvy, an illness that was decimating the French. The feast was a success for the health and welfare of the colonists, and it became an annual affair. Québec, despite being a province with a vastly different culture and Canadian identity than the rest of Canada, also celebrates this holiday known as Action de Grâce. Despite these uniquely Canadian origins, Canadian Thanksgiving as we know it today, has been greatly influenced by our neighbours to the south – thanks in large part to the robust trade route between Halifax, Nova Scotia and America in the 1750s. We can thank our American trade partners for introducing turkey and pumpkin to our Canadian Thanksgiving menus.

In 1921 until 1931, Armistice Day and Thanksgiving fell on the same day, November 11th – allowing Canadians to take a moment to remember the sacrifice Canadian forces made during the First World War and to give thanks for the Armistice agreement that was signed between German and Allied forces on Monday, November 11th, 1918. Today, Armistice Day – or as Canadians now call it, Remembrance Day – still falls on November 11th but Thanksgiving was given a new date and became an official statutory holiday. 

Don’t Forget the Date!

Unlike American Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October every year. There could be many reasons for this, but one of the most popular theories is that because Canada is much farther north, our harvest season is far earlier than that of our southern neighbours. Today, especially on Vancouver Island, Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect opportunity for Vancouver Islanders to visit local farmers markets and select the seasonal harvest and not only celebrate coming together with friends and family but also the bounty of a good harvest on Vancouver Island. 

Enjoy the Food

It’s a well-known fact that the Thanksgiving holiday is one of plenty – that’s why the cornucopia or “horn of plenty” is a traditional part of Thanksgiving decor. During this national holiday you’ll typically find that Canadians are all about the food! The weekend is typically filled with large meals, fun appetizers, delicious drinks, and many culinary family traditions. The Thanksgiving Day meal is typically very much like Christmas dinner – you’ll find roasted turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy and fall vegetables like squash, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and of course cranberry sauce.  

Watch Canadian Football

Over this holiday weekend, you can catch some great football games – Canadian football that is. The Canadian Football League Thanksgiving Day Classic in Montreal is usually aired sometime during the Thanksgiving weekend and is always a great thing to do as a family, especially if you love sports! While you’re visiting Vancouver Island, you can find plenty of places that will be showing this double header over the weekend and if you’re staying at a property with a great entertainment system, you can enjoy it from the comfort of your own living room! 

Enjoy the Parade from Home

If you’re not one for football, you can still enjoy Thanksgiving celebrations from the comfort of the couch! Watch the annual Thanksgiving Day parade in Ontario hosted by the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest! This annual parade is a Canadian Thanksgiving holiday tradition and has incredible local performers including traditional First Nations dancers and performers, civic figures, and colourful floats! This event is broadcast live so be sure to check the time difference, so you don’t miss it! 

Skip Black Friday

Thanksgiving weekend in the US is a public holiday with another unofficial ‘holiday’ attached to it – the beloved and dreaded Black Friday. While many Canadian retailers have piggybacked on the popularity of this American shopping bonanza during the weekend of American Thanksgiving, you won’t find these sales during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. That being said, the long weekend is a lovely time to shop, especially if you’re on Vancouver Island when the weather is typically still warm but crisp and there are many small city and town shopping districts to explore, but it’s not typically a heavy sales time in Canadian retail.