autumn festival, Baffin Island, blessings, Canada, Canadian Thanksgiving, discovery of gold, Europeans, fall harvest, First Nations, Frobisher Bay, harvest, Inuit, Inuktitut, Iqaluit, Martin Frobisher, Native Americans, Northwest Passage, Nunavut, October, Pilgrims, Plymouth, Thanksgiving, Vikings, Wampanoag
Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians out there! The second Monday in October was officially designated as Canadian Thanksgiving in 1957, a day to give thanks “for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Before that it was observed on different dates each year. Although the Native Americans were celebrating the fall harvest long before the settlers got here, the first known celebration by Europeans in the ‘new world’ was in 1578 by Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who set out with fifteen ships to find the Northwest Passage and established a small settlement on Baffin Island (Frobisher Bay, now renamed Iqaluit, Inuktitut). Storms, ice, and death conspired against him, and the fleet was scattered. When they finally were reunited, Frobisher was so thankful for their deliverance that they worshiped and celebrated together. Part of his jubilation probably had to do with a black stone which he believed contained gold. On his second and third voyages, Frobisher carried back over a thousand tons of ‘gold’ ore , which turned out to be worthless iron pyrite when smelted in England. I wonder if the local Inuit shook their heads over the strange, greedy men who dug in the dirt. Unlike the friendly Pilgrim/Wampanoag festival at Plymouth in 1621, relations with the Inuit did not begin well, resulting in kidnapping and deaths on both sides. The Inuit of Iqaluit had had too many encounters with the Vikings to trust these new Europeans. In spite of its rocky beginnings, I’m glad this fall harvest festival continued to be celebrated through the years in Canada. As the least commercialized holiday, Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorites – a day to gather with family, eat delicious food, play together, and be thankful for all we have been given.