Canada might not have dozens of flashy folk traditions, but it does have a few quirky customs and traditions worth mentioning. Intrigued? From Queen Victoria’s birthday to one of the world’s longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades, here are a few interesting traditions in Canada that might surprise you.
Unique Canadian Traditions
1. Victoria Day
For most people in Canada, Victoria Day signals the start of summer and good weather. Most cities mark the occasion with picnics, fireworks, parades, sports tournaments and cannon salutes. But it’s not just a random day off, it actually marks the birthday of Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901. Canada declared the 24th of May a holiday in 1845. When the Queen died in 1901, Victoria Day remained a public holiday in Canada while other Commonwealth nations celebrated it as Empire Day. As Queen Victoria holds a special place in Canadian’s hearts though, as a “Mother of Confederation” who encouraged Canadian unity and self-government and selected Ottawa as the capital.
Originally, the celebrations fell on her birthday every year but in 1952 the Canadian government decided to mark it on the Monday before it every year. That means that no one misses out on a day off. This year, for example, Victoria Day falls on May 23 2022.
In Quebec, the Monday before May 25th is a public holiday, though it’s known as Journée Nationale des Patriotes. This replaced Fête de Dollard, which replaced Victoria Day in 1918.
2. Thanksgiving is a big deal too
Like the United States, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, though the two occasions differ slightly. While American Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday of November every year, in Canada they celebrate the second Monday of October. Canadian Thanksgiving is more closely related to the UK’s harvest festival, which marks the beginning of Autumn (or fall). In the United States, the Thanksgiving tradition is linked specifically to the Pilgrims and settling in America, rather than the harvest. Canada first started celebrating Thanksgiving in 1859, though its indigenous populations had marked the occasion long before this.
There are a few more differences too. In Canada, the holiday always takes place on a Monday, so it’s straight back to work post-food-coma. It’s more of a low-key celebration time too. Canadians are more likely to celebrate the occasion with friends and family locally, than travel miles to see relatives. That said, the table looks pretty similar, with all the turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie you can gobble up in one go.
The Calgary Stampede is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that takes place in Calgary every July. The ten-day extravaganza is known as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, which you might think is over-egging, but Trip Advisor is happy to tell us otherwise. More than one million visitors head to the show every year to see the parade, concerts and performances, as well as quirky agricultural shows and chuckwagon racing.
The first-ever Calgary Stampede took place in 1884 to promote the town to farmers and ranchers from eastern Canada. The first fair took place two years later, though the first stampede didn’t take place until 1912 under the guidance of American Wild West show performer Guy Weadick. From 1923, it became a regular fixture. Yee Haw!
4. Canada’s longest-running parade celebrates St Patricks Day
Montreal boasts Canada’s longest-running parade – and it celebrates St. Patrick. The parade has taken place every year since 1824, though officials cancelled the celebrations in 2020 and 2021 (classic Covid-19). As many as 700,00 people head to the city to see the three-hour parade, which features floats, marching bands and other performers.
Canada’s relationship with Ireland dates back hundreds of years. The first-ever St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Montreal dates back even further, to 1759. The first Irish person arrived in Canada around 1661. The Black Rock, or Irish Commemorative Stone, was the first-ever memorial dedicated to the Great Famine in the World.
5. Plus it’s home to one of the world’s largest and oldest Santa Parades
The Toronto Santa Claus Parade, also known as The Original Santa Claus Parade, started in 1913, making it one of the oldest Santa parades in the world. At first, it was just a single Santa being dragged through the streets of the city by a reindeer, with children along the route following and marching alongside him. Today, over a century later it’s grown into a mammoth event with over 25 animated floats and over 2,000 participants. In 1976 the route was lengthened to 7.5 miles to allow for the bigger crowds. At that point, more than 30 million people from across North America were tuning in to see the parade.
6. Christmas is important in Nova Scotia
Unsurprisingly, Christmas is a pretty big deal in Canada but they take it particularly seriously in Nova Scotia. Famous for its fir and pine Christmas trees, most families across the country will have a Nova Scotia Christmas tree in the house, festooned with twinkling fairy lights and decorations. One old tradition sees Canada send its biggest, best Nova Scotia-grown Christmas tree to Boston in the United States. It’s a thank-you for their assistance in the Halifax Explosion, and the tradition has continued for decades.
Nova Scotia also has its own Christmas tradition called Belsnickeling. It involves getting dressed up in a funny Santa costume and knocking on doors in the area until the homeowner guesses who you are. In Newfoundland, they do something similar, called Mummering. also known as Jannying, it involves putting on a costume, rapping at someone’s door and saying – in a disguised tone – “Are there any Mummers in tonight?”. Then they’ll have a sing and dance, possibly a slice of Christmas cake, before moving on to the next house. If you can’t guess who the summer is, you’ll need to join the mummers in their merry ways.
7. New shoes for a special day
On Budget Day, the Canadian Minister of Finance and provincial finance ministers will wear new shoes to deliver the new budget. The tradition dates back to 1960 with Donald M. Fleming. For her first two provincial budgets, Carole Taylor wore new shoes in British Columbia. Stockwell Day once wore inline skates in Alberta and in 2019 Eric Girard wore new running shoes when he delivered his first budget speech. Sounds like an excellent excuse to us.