Trick or treat: Alberta said it first
By Nathan Woolridge, News Editor
Halloween — a time when children and adults alike can dress up in costume for parties, work and of course the classic tradition of going trick-or-treating.
The holiday has been around for ages, but there are a lot of stories about when Halloween originated. While it’s a combination of many different holidays and traditions that eventually evolved into the Halloween that we celebrate today, most origin stories do share a common theme — that Halloween has something to do with the dead revisiting us here on earth.
1927: Visiting the Blackie archives
Today we mostly dress up as our favourite TV and movie characters, go to Halloween parties and indulge in our own weight of candy and chocolate. Famously, the term “trick-or-treat” comes to mind when we think about the holiday.
But, did you know that it wasn’t until Nov. 3, 1927 that the phrase “trick or treat” was used for Halloween? And it’s first documented use is traced back to small-town Alberta.
The phrase was published in an edition of the Blackie Times.
Blackie is a hamlet south of Calgary — it is so small you can go throughout the town in less than five minutes. It’s a quaint little town with a hockey arena, a small grocery store and a population well below 500.
Don’t quote me, but I think it only has five fully paved roads. It does however, have a great Canada Day celebration — which consists of a parade and a good ol’ fashioned tractor pull.
This may sound like a hoot, but Blackie is most well known for having the earliest documentation of the phrase “trick-or-treat.” It’s an interesting story because there’s no real reason as to why the phrase was published in the Blackie Times in 1927. Where did the phrase come from? Why was it published? Unfortunately, we don’t know the answers.
Let’s take a look at what the original Blackie Times article read: “Hallowe’en 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.”
Kind of creepy, right? “No real damage was done” and the usage of “youthful tormentors” definitely has the potential to send a chill down your spine.
Halloween history: From murders and mysteries to treats and fun
To give some context to the newspaper clipping, Halloween used to be a really rambunctious event. According to a CBC interview with the author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nick Rogers, the night of spooky costumes and treats has clearly evolved over time.
Rogers notes that Halloween used to be rowdy prior to the Second World War.
In Canada, a riot on Halloween occurred in 1945 by high school students. But Rogers told CBC that “Adding charity to trick-or-treating toned down the vandalism quite a lot.”
Rogers is referring to modern day “trick-or-treating” where there are a lot more treats and a lot less tricks. Thankfully.
Similar traditions of “trick-or-treating” have existed for a long time — some having roots in Newfoundland — like the act of Mummering also known as Mumming, which originated in England. According to Heritage Newfoundland, it is unclear when Mummering was brought to Newfoundland, but its earliest record comes from around 1819.
What is Mummering you might ask? Well, there are a lot of different stories — but, essentially its dressing up in clothes that hide your identity and you go door to door singing and dancing for food. This tradition has also changed over time with its primary focus on remaining anonymous and not having your neighbours guess your correct identity.
Mummering became illegal in Newfoundland around 1861 because of the murder of Isaac Mercer in 1890, according to Archival Moments. The murder and a string of crimes in Newfoundland led to a bill that outlawed wearing a mask in public.
I bet you didn’t realize that Canada had such a dark and scary past when it came to Halloween. The origins and roots of the spooky holiday have connections to Canada that have been recorded throughout our history. Looking at the holiday today, it has definitely changed a lot since the Blackie Times first published the phrase “trick-or-treat.”