Despite the fact that we were able to stay in Nova Scotia longer this summer than any of the previous three years, when the time came to fly South, it seemed that the season had been entirely too short.  When it dawned on us that Canadian Thanksgiving coincided with fall break in the U.S. academic year, we booked tickets back to Nova Scotia.  For those of you who don’t know about Canadian Thanksgiving, Wikipedia should set you straight.

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.  Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest but for a safe return to Newfoundland. During his search for the Northwest Passage, he avoided the later fate of Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. (Australian readers may recognize Franklin, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania before his ill-fated adventure). Frobisher’s ceremony in 1578 was one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations by Europeans in North America.

French settlers crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1604. They held feasts of thanks in the settlement of Port Royal, in what they called Acadie. They formed ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ and shared their food with their First Nations neighbours. After the Seven Year’s War ended in 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax, held a special day of Thanksgiving.

At the end of the American Revolution, settlers from the colonies who remained loyal to Great Britain fled the newly independent United States for Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

The Wikipedia write up on the Canadian Thanksgiving is somewhat thin on information, but it seems likely that celebrating in October rather than November has to do with the earlier onset of winter in most parts of Canada. In the Annapolis Valley, where we are, harvest was in full swing when we arrived on October 8.  The valley is the bread basket of Nova Scotia.  On the weekends, urban dwellers from the big city (Halifax) drive up in droves to gawk at vegetables for sale at farm stands and look over the pumpkins in the fields.

There are pick-your-own pumpkin patches, and the selection process seems to take on the import of a religious rite.  In the nearby town of Windsor, a farmer named Howard Dill became so obsessed by the squash that he bred the biggest pumpkins on the planet for four years in a row.  His seeds, called “Dill’s Atlantic Giant,” have produced specimens weighing 1689 lbs (767 kilos).  He died two years ago, but his unstinting efforts brought a boom in tourism to the town.

For a dozen years now, the town has held a pumpkin regatta, in which adventurous mariners carve their “personal vegetable vessels” to race against one another on the Lake Pesaquid, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.  I have failed to attend the event every single year, but it is on my list.  This year it was held on Sunday, the day we had selected for our own particular family Thanksgiving.  And I was the chief cook.  So I’ve inserted some else’s photo.  It’s a good one.

I enjoy the harvest aspect of the season, but for me it is a melancholy time.  Winter is on its way, after all.  I will admit that its harbinger is sheer magic.  It happened one morning a few days after Thanksgiving.  I looked out the window and there it was– frost on the field.  It was beautiful.

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