Albertans may have been 1st to say 'trick or treat'

According to a Halloween historian, the earliest reference to the saying “trick or treat” appeared in a 1927 southern Alberta newspaper article.

Earliest reference appeared in 1927 southern Alberta newspaper article, historian says

York University historian Nick Rogers says the 1st reference to the saying 'trick-or-treat' also refrences the 'ritual vandalism' that used to accompany the holiday. (Shutterstock)

While the act of going door-to-door in costume in exchange for something sweet to eat has been around since the Middle Ages, it wasn't until sometime in the last century that people started saying "trick or treat."

And the very first group of kids to ever bark those words in unison may have been from a small southern Alberta town.

According to the author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, the earliest reference to the term "trick or treat" can be found in an 89-year-old newspaper clipping out of Blackie, Alta.

"It's certainly the earliest that I've ever seen, and I didn't know about it when I wrote my book — I thought the earliest one was in The American Magazine for 1947," said Nick Rogers, who also teaches history at York University in Toronto.

Here is the excerpt from The Blackie Times from Nov. 3, 1927:

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

"It's a very interesting excerpt in two ways," Rogers told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It not only talks about trick-or-treating, but it talks a little bit about the kind of the ritual vandalism that accompanied the holiday, particularly in the interwar years."

According to Halloween historian Nick Rogers, the earliest reference to the term 'trick-or-treat' can be found in an 89-year-old newspaper clipping from Blackie, Alta. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Halloween hooliganism

Before and after the Second World War, Halloween was quite a rough and rowdy holiday.

A notable Canadian example happened in 1945 in the Toronto area of Kew Beach.

Rogers said high school students started a "riot" on Queen Street East when they ignited bonfires and poured "gasoline down the street car lines."

In his book, he cites several other examples of hooliganism involving Canadian teenagers barging into candy stores, demanding treats while yelling "Shell out!"

"People thought, 'This is crazy. This is getting out of hand,' and the same thing was happening in the United States, so there were attempts [there] to tame it," he said.

In July 1950, the U.S. Senate recommended that Halloween be renamed "Youth Honor Day," and young adults and teenagers would pledge good behaviour on Halloween and try to tone down the holiday.

The idea never took off, but what did was the idea of integrating charitable acts into the holiday, such as collecting money for UNICEF.

"Adding charity to trick-or-treating toned down the vandalism quite a lot," Rogers said.

Exposed! Unmasking for the photographer at a Halloween party in 1913 in the town of High River, located about 25 kms west of Blackie, Alta. (Museum of the Highwood)

Mumming and souling

Rogers said trick-or-treating dates back to the late Middle Ages.

"It's very old. It goes right back to Hallow Mass to the original Christian holiday of honouring the dead," he said.

Back then it was called "souling," where people would collect food from neighbours' homes in exchange for praying for their dead relatives.

"The idea being that, if you prayed hard enough, you would help them get to heaven."

Nick Rogers is a historian and the author of the book, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. (Submitted)

Rogers said modern-day Halloween traditions are also rooted in the Gaelic and Welsh tradition of "mumming," where people would dress in costume or disguise and go door-to-door, singing for food.

"It might be good-humoured, but if that particular house was not thought to be particularly neighbourly, it could turn a little nastier with some pranks."


With files from the CBC's Evelyne Asselin and the Calgary Eyeopener