National Observance: An early Thanksgiving in Canada

Apple festival on Bowen Island off the western coast of Canada. See the entire video, below.Shelagh MacKinnon’s church on Bowen Island.MONDAY, OCTOBER 8: Clasp your hands together and give thanks—Canadian style—for the Thanksgiving Day celebrated by friends living to the north of most of our readers. Actually, ReadTheSpirit draws readers from all around the globe with Canada, the UK and India leading our international readership most weeks. In fact, a Canadian reader emailed early this year to encourage our posting of the Canadian Thanksgiving story.

She’s the Rev. Shelagh MacKinnon, minister for the United Church of Canada chapel on Bowen Island in far western Canada. She writes: “I live on this small island off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. We celebrate this season with our Applefest. Our Little Red Church will be decorated with gourds, pumpkins and garden produce of all kinds. Even lovely local blackberry jams and jellies. We always say this is the one time of the year we have to lock our cars—or else someone might put a zucchini on your passenger seat when we’re not looking! Some of our United Church of Canada congregations nearby focus on the produce of the sea—such an important part of our British Columbia story.

“But I grew up in Ontario where the spectacular colours of the maples marked the Thanksgivings of my childhood. After my ordination I was sent off to Saskatchewan where all the old hymn images of Bringing in the Sheaves come to life. But on the Prairies, by now the gardens would have been cleaned up in preparation for the winter.

“The common thread that runs through our Canadian Thanksgiving is the celebration of Creation. It is a very Earth/Creation-aware holiday and truly celebrates the harvest. In a rural pastorate it reminds us of the imperative to live with respect in God’s Creation.

“In the city I sometimes experience Thanksgiving as a time of wistfulness or nostalgia for a Canada gone-by, when people were not so far removed from seasons and were living in a closer relationship to Creation. Where we are, on Bowen Island, our little fir church is built in an old Apple Orchard so we are blessed to be in a closer relationship to a live spirituality of Creation.”


Here’s a little of the history: Since 1957, Canada has marked the Thanksgiving holiday on the second Monday of October; what began as a harvest festival has evolved into a feast with family and friends. For many centuries, First Nations in Canada have celebrated bountiful crops each autumn with a meal and dances of thanks. Many Canadians also look to a 1578 expedition of ships led by Martin Frobisher (now mainly remembered as the namesake of Frobisher Bay) that faced major setbacks and, when safe again, organized a Thanksgiving worship serivce. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the American Revolution, some Americans moved to Canada and brought their own Thanksgiving traditions with them. While Lower Canada and Upper Canada used to observe Thanksgiving on separate dates, the observance was later unified.


Rob Feenie may not be a household name across America, but he did win Iron Chef America so this Canadian is a culinary star in his homeland. Hot on the heels of latest cookbook, “Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics,” the Tornot Sun convinced him to share a couple of Thanksgiving-themed recipies. And do they look yummy! Check out the article from the Toronto Sun—and you’ll find Rob’s recipes for Cornish Game Hen with Dried Fruit, Honey and Almonds, plus his Bourbon-Butterscotch Sauce.


Click below to watch a three-minute video produced at Bowen Island’s 2010 apple festival. If you don’t see a video screen below, click here to reload this Holiday column and the screen should appear.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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