Halloween was first practiced in Canada in the Maritimes and eastern port cities where Irish and Scottish settlers arrived in Canada around 1840. Many of the settlers arrived to build the canal or to escape the potato famine. They brought with them the Pagan tradition of celebrating October 31st known as All Hallow’s Eve, which is now called Halloween or Allhalloween. All Hallow’s Eve is the day before old Samhain, which marks the first day of winter (also known as All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day, and the Day of the Dead). In the 19th century some Pagan traditions associated with All Hallow’s Eve were still practiced in Canada, such as bobbing for apples, snap-apple, bonfires (fire with animal bones), collecting treats door to door, and divining the future. There are records of communities on the east coast gathering in farmhouses to practice their traditions.[i] CBC has some very interesting recordings in their online Digital Archives on the practice of Halloween in Canada.
The practice of costumed people going door to door for treats developed from a combination of two old traditions:
- The belief that the souls of the dead and demons walked among people on Halloween and wearing a costume, or guising, would confuse them, which would act as a form of protection.
- The belief that souls of the dead would knock on doors to receive food, and if not given any food they would haunt or curse the home. It became customary for people to hand out treats to all who knocked at the door.[ii]
Irish and Scottish settlers in the eastern USA also practiced All Hallow’s Eve traditions, causing the practice and celebration to increase in popularity and spread across North America in the following years.
The apostrophe: The apostrophe in the word Hallowe’en does not regularly make an appearance and sometimes it is dropped. You can take it or leave it, as using the apostrophe historically comes in and out of favour. In the 1960s marketing for the holiday dropped the apostrophe and it has maintained this spelling since; however, according to proper English grammar, it is recommended to use the apostrophe as it infers the word ‘eve’ after ‘hallow’.[iii]
Canada’s contributions to the holiday (Yep, we recorded it first):
A newspaper article from 1911 printed in Kingston, Ontario offers the first printed evidence of people putting on costumes and disguising or guising themselves, going door to door asking for treats on Hallowe’en.
Another newspaper article from 1927 printed in Blackie, Alberta offers the first printed evidence of costumed youths going door to door to “trick or treat” on Hallowe’en.[iv]
[i] Barrett, Maria and Bill McNeil. (1961, October 31). CBC Assignment: Halloween Originates with Samhain, Lord of the Dead.
Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/halloween-originates-with-samhain-lord-of-the-dead
[ii] “The Origins of Halloween in Canada.” Today in Canadian History. 2 November, 2015. http://www.canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php/Halloween. Accessed 18, October 2016.
[iii] Barrie, Andy. Guest referenced: Nick Rogers. (2002, October 21). CBC Metro Morning: The Evolution of Halloween.
Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-evolution-of-halloween
[iv] “The Origins of Halloween in Canada.” Today in Canadian History. 2 November, 2015. http://www.canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php/Halloween. Accessed 18, October 2016.
MacInnis, Lloyd. (1957, October 31). CBC Assignment: Halloween, Maritime Witches.
Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-witches-of-nova-scotia.