Montreal Gazette, 28 November 1901, page 4
That our Canadian Thanksgiving Day should synchronize with that of our neighbours, thus making the last Thursday in November a continental festival, cannot reasonably arouse any dissatisfaction. To those (and they are many) who have kinsfolk and well wishers on both sides of the boundary, the coincidence ought to give pleasure. There may, indeed, be some old-fashioned persons who recognising the sole or chief object of such an observance in Canada, and the absence from it of anything even remotely associated with politics, would prefer that an earlier day were chosen, more in keeping with that object. The reason for such choice is all the more urgent, they may argue, because with us the autumn or season of increase, marked by the ingathering of the kindly fruits of the earth, has by the close of November made considerable advance towards the season of nature’s sleep. Some of our churches do indeed celebrate the harvest home at a time more in keeping with the motions of “the man who very well can harrow and plough and sew.” But such observances seldom interferes with the acknowledgement of God’s goodness on the day appointed for the people at large. The latter day suits the convenience of the largest number of Canadians and, so long as misunderstanding is avoided. The fact that the same day is observed for a like purpose by our republican neighbours should tend to good and not to evil.
For the justification of such an ordinance the argument from precedent is very strong. It is curious that our first new-world example of the practice should be of Puritan source, though in the Stuart age, that yielded it, old-world piety of the sterner sort was opposed to all such usages. Herrick, who has mirrored rural England in his Hesperides there tells in what way the sons of summer, by the work of whose hands all that fosters and gladdens is placed at man’s disposal, rejoiced at the close of their labours. The custom of keeping holiday at such a time and mingling joy and good will to each other with the expression of gratitude to the giver of all things, was old, very old in Herrick’s day. We know from ancient writers and from Holy Scripture, with what rites and festivities the collection of the earth’s bounties was associated by the Greeks, the Romans and the Hebrews; and that these three great nations of antiquity were not alone in this showing their thanks to the great Lord of all harvest we have been informed by many authorities.
The first instance, however, of such observance among the fathers of the British race. In the new world took place 290 years ago. In the autumn of the year 1621, we are told, Governor Bradford sent out four men skilled in wood-craft and the ways of beasts, and birds, good for food, and commanded them to gather in a fair supply of venison, so that with the already garnered fruits of the earth, they might show decent mirth, while giving thanks to the Giver. In the following year the harvest was bounteous, and the colonists having in the like manner assembled, “solemnized the day of thanksgiving to the Lord.” From these records it would appear that the settlers in New England, being free from any risk of misunderstanding, followed the dictates of nature and reason, and combined the reverent giving of thanks with a cordial and joyous participation in those bounties which evoked their gratitude. In 1681, after the proclamation of a day of public thanksgiving, the dearth of provisions became so urgent, that a fast day was appointed (February 26) but before that day, the arrival of a vessel with timely aid enabled the authorities to change fasting into rejoicing.
From that time forward thanksgiving days were familiar holidays in all the colonies, the Dutch included. There were also special days appointed for the celebration of victory or of (illegible). Some of the thanksgiving sermons preached at Boston and elsewhere after the conquest of Canada are among the prizes of some of those pious discourses gave a forecast of the opposition that the disruptionists afterwards met from the Tories. During the Revolutionary War, the practice both of fasts and thanksgivings was kept up. The order of procedure was for the continental congress to pass by resolution a recommendation to the executives of the several states to observe such a day as a day of thanksgiving, the cause being duly assigned. Washington also set apart such days for the array. The first national thanksgiving day after the adoption of the constitution was symbolised on the (illegible) with special reference to the (illegible) out some of the Southerners thought it was wrong, either to mimic old world customs or to give thanks for a possibly doubtless soon. Mr Tucker of Virginia though it would be wiser to test the constitution before returning thanks for it. The motion was also criticised as an interference with the functions of the state. But it carried and Washington issued a proclamation appointing November 26, 1789, a day of thanksgiving.
In Canada, it is only since the inauguration of the federal system that thanksgiving day has been regularly observed. But, as we know, both the French and the British regimen afforded frequent and memorable examples of the practice. Our own city was cradled in thanksgivings, and the action gratiarum in those days was more than words. It always developed into deeds; again and again it found expression in memorials, churches or other offerings. The spirit that prompts such thanksgivings as that has never died in Canada, as our temples, colleges, hospitals, and other institutions for befriending the friendless and bringing joy to the joyless, unmistakably bear witness. To keep that spirit alive a stated day may not be necessary. And yet, it can hardly fail to yield some fruit, some spiritual increase by reminding us all of a duty, a way and a goal.