Canada's holiday shopping season has started with a bang, an industry group said on Monday, as more retailers than ever offered Black Friday promotions to keep up with competitors south of the border.

Anecdotally, the malls were packed, said Sally Ritchie, a spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada. Black Friday is increasingly becoming an event here in Canada.

U.S. retail stocks rose on Monday after a blockbuster weekend, but sales data was not available for Canada.

On Monday retailers on both sides of the border turned their attention to online sales, on what is usually the biggest online shopping day in the United States.

Neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday have historically been much of an event in Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving in October, but that seems to be changing.

If we look at where Black Friday, Cyber Monday was in Canada last year compared to this year, I think it's a much bigger weekend than it was last year, so I think we do see a trend there, said Daniel Baer, national retail industry leader at Ernst & Young.

Baer said it is too early to say how the season is going in general, but after the weekend's traffic Ritchie was upbeat.

I think it does bode well for the shopping season for retailers this Christmas season, she said.

A spokesman for eBay Canada said that so far the online market is seeing higher sales than last year, though he could not give specific numbers.

PROMOTIONAL YEAR

Baer linked the spread of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to a broader trend toward promotions. Experts say retailers are cutting prices this season to woo consumers nervous about the economy.

Ritchie traces the sales to the strong Canadian dollar, which boosted cross-border shopping, raising consumers' awareness of Black Friday and pushing domestic retailers to offer sales that could keep shoppers at home.

Baer said Cyber Monday looks to be spreading as quickly as Black Friday, if not more quickly.

The Canadian operations of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which branded the weekend's sale Black Friday for the first time this year, also launched its first Cyber Monday sale.

FGL Sports, a chain recently acquired by Canadian Tire Corp, ran a sale at Sport Chek online, as did Sears Canada.

A number of brands that did not run official Black Friday sales did launch Cyber Monday promotions in Canada, including big-box electronics retailers Best Buy Co and Future Shop, and Hudson's Bay Co's The Bay department store.