Canada’s history of Halloween
Halloween is as ancient as the Old Gods that haunt the nightmares of mortals, but has a significant and interesting history in Canada.
According to history.com, Halloween was originally celebrated in the form of a Celtic festival called “Samhain” that marked the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the long, dark winter.
“To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities,” stated the website.
While the holiday was born in ancient northwest Europe, there have been some significant contributions to Halloween made right here in Alberta.
According to many sources, including CBC news and the Smithsonian, the first written mention of the phrase “trick-or-treat” was in our home province.
On Nov. 3, 1927, The Blackie Times published a story containing the following excerpt:
“Halloween provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick-or-treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”
The City of Edmonton’s website, edmonton.ca, also has information regarding the history of trick-or-treating.
“Costumed trick-or-treaters were common in Edmonton by the 1930s. At that time, the young revellers would prey mostly on businesses, demanding treats while threatening tricks.
“Apples were a popular reward… however, other fruits, candies, popcorn and nuts were all appreciated as well,” states the website.
Among Halloween traditions are pranks. Pranking on Halloween is hardly new, in fact, Edmonton police reports from Halloween of 1930 state that fences and sidewalks were damaged, furniture was stolen, a streetcar was derailed and a horse-drawn wagon was stolen and wrecked.
Even so, as long as there have been pranksters, there have been those who take things too far in the name of self-defense.
In the Nov. 1, 1927 Edmonton Bulletin there is even an article titled, “Trained Bees Protect Gate From Prankers.”
According to the article, one citizen of Edmonton was afraid that some local youth would do something nefarious to his gate, so he decided a proper course of action was to disguise a hive of bees and place it near his gate. Later that very night, pranksters did arrive but quickly fled after kicking the hive.
“Dogs wag their tails at children, but the bees wag a vicious stinger,” said the citizen.
Edmonton.ca also details the tradition of dressing in costumes for Halloween.
“Costumes have been an important part of Halloween in Edmonton since at least 1900.”
The website continues to state that in those early days most costumes were handmade, but as time went on, more commercial options were made available.
With the rise of commercial costumes came a problem that Halloween still faces today.
“Although Halloween was considered an inclusive, non-ethnic holiday, racism was an issue.”
Edmonton.ca stated that, “‘Negro’ costumes were widely available from catalogues until the 1950s, and instances of Halloween revellers in ‘blackface’ continue to make the news.”
“Asian and Indian costumes, both for children and adults, are still sold during Halloween. Those costumes are racist because they reflect and reinforce the normalcy of ‘whiteness’ at the expense of other races.”