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Canada during the Great depression.

By nightcrawler Dec 03, 2003 2887 Words
During the Great Depression of the 1930's, Canada's Prairie provinces suffered more than any other area in Canada. This time frame brought for the farmers many years of droughts and grasshopper plagues, as each year got worse without any rainfall whatsoever. The impact of the Great Depression on the Prairie provinces was devastating and it's impact on the region was social, political and economical. During this period unemployment reached high levels, prices of products were falling and purchasing power was getting very weak. To try to help out unemployed people, mostly men, the government introduced relief camps. During the 1930's in Prairie Canada, the Great Depression created harsh conditions and it was a struggle until it ended. The event which triggered the Great Depression was the Stock Market crash of October 24, 1929 in New York. Another important cause was that: Later in the 1930's, the wide adoption of the gold exchange in many countries was widely criticized as a great mistake which greatly contributed to the severity and length of the Great Depression. 1 In Canada, wheat, the most important export, was being over-produced around the world, despite the fact that the 1928 supply of wheat was still available in 1929. A good reason for the stock market crash in 1929 was that, the values of stocks of the New York Stock Exchange were grossly over-valued, but government and business appeared to ignore the signs. 2 Canadian revenues that came in from export sales were dependent largely upon the United States who had the money for growth; the commodities were grain, pulp and paper and metals. Then when the New York crashed on October 1929, stock prices fell dramatically. When the stock market crashed, the Canadian economy suffered after the United States invoked high tariffs to shut out Canadian goods. In the Prairie provinces of Canada, in addition to economic depression was the effect of the nine years of drought and crop failures. When the Great Depression plagued Canada, the country was not ready for it; there are three main reasons why: 1) Seasonal unemployment was predictable since wages for seasonal labour were high enough. 2) Cyclical unemployment and recovery in the past always occurred eventually. Canada was a new world society, with a developing farm frontier. 3) There was a working class political pressure. 3 Dependence on foreign trade of wheat contributed to Canada's main cause of the Great Depression. The Weather in the Prairies greatly contributed to the disastrous effects which took place upon the Prairies during the 1930's. Crops which were green and healthy in June, had reduced to nothing in two to three weeks. The cause of devastation to the crops was usually from dust storms. The drought created five to seven years of dried-out crops. A description of the Prairie land was that ... The Prairies were like a great rich land without rain. The heat everyday was too hot to adjust to during the day and too hot to sleep at night. It was like living a dry sauna. The wind was so hot and sucking that it sucked up the moisture. 4 In 1931, events which occurred were blizzards, dust storms consisting of hot dry, wind and complete crop failure. In 1932 it was the year when grasshoppers plagued the land. In 1933 the effects of drought and grasshoppers were the main factors which contributed to the downfall of the Prairie provinces in the first few years of the Great Depression. In 1934, soil began to blow in mid June and destroy gardens and crops and cause the cancellations of many fairs in the villages across the southern plains. In 1936, it was the coldest winter with blizzards contributing to chilling records and also events where people froze to death. During the summer of 1936, it was the longest and hottest summer. Temperatures reached one hundred degrees Fahrenheit regularly and also caused a few deaths. The drought and high winds caused desert-like conditions to spread over the Prairies. "In May and June of 1937 the weather ended up being hotter, drier, windier and dirtier than the year before." 5 Impact of the dust storms reduced visibility to a few feet, lakes went dry and farmers had to cut Russian Thistle to feed the starving cattle since there were no crops. As situations got worse, some settlers started to leave the land. In 1935 R.B. Bennett and his government introduced the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation to help out people who were experiencing tremendous hardship. The social impact of the Great Depression on the Prairies had psychological implications. There was frustration for those who stayed and for those who abandoned their farms. Since there was not enough money for gas, people used their horses to draw their cars and called them "Bennett Buggies". Some people were going quite crazy and often did not really care what consequences they would have to face. A description of the state of turmoil: Only those who lived through it could realize what it meant to travel for miles over a wasteland, with the dust and Russian thistle blowing across the fields and piling up on the fences; to see cattle and horses dead in the fields because they had become so hungry that they ate the Russian Thistle that tore their intestines apart and they died in agony. 6 It was difficult for women, since the men always saw each other, once in a while when they met in town with other men. The women stayed at home, isolated and so they could only listen to the radio. Radio was the only medium that gave people in the Prairies contact with the outside world. Some women went to mental hospitals since they suffered from mental depressions. Schoolhouse dances were an event where people could get together. People read quite a lot since there was nothing else to do. They borrowed these books from the library. The provinces lacked high schools and the children had to go out of town to attend one usually somewhere in the United States. The medical facilities were atrocious as people had to pay one week's payments in advance and they did not have enough money but needed treatment. During the 1930's fine art was created during idle time. Portraits made were of "still lives, landscapes, depiction of people at work and portrayed of rural and urban buildings." 7 Home entertainment was provided by popular radio programs, dance bands and hockey broadcasts, as all these provided cheap entertainment. Also there was participation in sports, picnics, dances and church socials due to shortages of cash. The immigration and birthrate of people drastically reduced during the 1930's. The growth of the population was very low. European Jews who fled Nazi Germany were denied entrance into Canada. In Saskatchewan, the rural population grew faster than its urban population. Henry Jacobson, a 78 year old said," The depression took away my wife, my home, a sector of good land back in Saskatchewan and left me with nothing." 8 The worst area hit was the Palliser Triangle in Saskatchewan. In the Palliser Triangle, farmers saw their land erode away. The topsoil suffered as it was blown by the heavy wind. The crops were frozen, damaged from grasshoppers, or burned during the summer. This condition forced people off their own land. By the tens, hundreds, thousands right across the West, they left the farms, following the path of neighbors gone north to Peace River or the cool and green Fraser Valley of British Columbia. There had been no crops for three, maybe five years. No money for petroleum, clothes or even food. 9 People were so worse off that they did not have a job, money, enough food and only ripped clothing to wear. Only some individuals were quite well off as they had fixed salaries and lived comfortably. The teachers and the ministers were two groups of people who really found the Great Depression a struggle: People who really affected from social effects of the Great Depression were school teachers and religious leaders. Teachers saw gifted students be forced to leave school due to the lack of funds. Ministers saw sickness, malnutrition, want and poverty without power to do more than comfort and sustain. 10 People during the 1930's revealed through their music their feelings, explanations and effects that the Depression had upon them. Local radio programs as well as recording in studios and other forms of entertainment replaced music which was formerly popular. These songs are united in their concern for interpreting the bizarre events of the 1930's, trying to offer solutions, scapegoats, courses of action, and perhaps dreams that helped people survive this trying time. 11 Religion during the 1930's in Prairie Canada was aiding people with their troubles. People realized that situations were not good. They turned to an almighty being for guidance and assistance. Lloyd C. Douglas a minister of St. James United Church (1929-1933) had a message which said, "Religion works: it provides the key to success, peace of mind and a worthwhile life" 12 There was an overproduction of wheat and industrial goods. The war had created changes in the structure in the economy as well as damage in the international trade. Wages were always falling behind. Economic theories of John Maynard Keynes were helpful and suggested that if private investment failed to produce full employment, the state must initiate public investment through deficit spending to create jobs. Keynesian economics became part of the government policy, and it was due to the large sum of state expenditures necessary for the war which helped to reduce unemployment. "Prairie wheat economy $1.60 a bushel price in 1929 - .38 in 2 and a half years" 13 The hardest hit area was Saskatchewan "Per capita income fell from $478 in 1929-29 to $135 in 1932 - a 71% decrease" 14 People could not afford to purchase products produced because there was a lack of purchasing power. Also the wages were not sufficient to buy products because producers had to consider prices for overhead, the high cost of credit and the profits into the sale price of the product. In some areas, prices dropped to almost zero. Wheat was being sold for 35 cents a bushel, butter was sold for 10 cents a pound, big turkeys for $1 and small turkeys for 50 cents. 15 In the late 1920's the farmers created the wheat pools. These pools had some problems in the marketing system because there was only one economic investment and a single crop to export. Instead of yielding the farmers profits the wheat pools made the farmers poor. In Alberta, economic depression was the worst with the combination of prices, debts, and interest. It got so bad that the Social Credit Revolution of 1935 was formed. Partly Canadian collapse in prices that followed Wall Street's Black Thursday was the high cost of mechanization, exorbitant interest rates and boom-bust grain prices. 16 Employers were particular about who worked for them. Some of them would prefer to have a person work for them at a lower wage. These employers would fire their employees as soon as they could offer a lower wage to somebody else to do the same job. They squeezed every possible amount of labour out of the employee for the least amount in wages. Other employers felt sad when people had were laid off. People also set up employment agencies to help everyone get a job. "In Canada ten to twenty five percent of the labour force was unemployed throughout the Depression." 17 Before the Depression it was different, since anyone who was dissatisfied with his job could leave the existing company and go to work for another one. Since women worked for less than men, they didn't have to go on relief programs since employers would fill their job openings with women. Since local governments refused to help single homeless men during the years 1932 and 1936, the federal governments established Unemployment Relief Camps. These camps were run by the Department of Defence. The camps paid the men 20 cents a day for heavy work such as construction. In 1935 there was a protest in Regina against the conditions of the camps. It was called the Regina Riot. It was one of the most violent events of the 1930's and included 130 people being arrested, many men injured and one policeman killed. The camps did help as the men did not starve to death and had a little bit of food in their stomachs. For some men support through the relief camps meant total humiliation as they were fathers and had been hard working wage earners a couple of years ago. The camps served the purpose of feeding the men, clothing them, and paying them 20 cents a day. The relief camps "kept them in the hills, in the mountains, far from civilization and far from communists." 18 Some of the duties the men would perform would be to clean park areas, help with building of bridges, clean up hiking trails, learn work habits and to keep out of trouble. Some of the men were grabbed from the streets and forced into these camps. The conditions of the camps meant for the workers a monotonous life, dirty conditions to cope with, and non-productive work to do. One explanation of the treatment in camps: "In relief camps we weren't treated as humans, we were treated as animals and we were just statistics." 19 Other forms of aid were given by the volunteer agencies. The churches helped distribute clothing, bedding and fed the hungary and the homeless. Canadian Red Cross was another agency who contributed by supplying clothing, blankets and bedding as well as collected money for medical care. In 1935 the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Association was formed to help out the worst areas of the agricultural economy. The homeless rode the boxcars from one city to another, begging for food and clothing. In labour camps the men received shelter, three meals a day, worked 48 hours per week and had to deal with conflicts. Anyone who tried to protest faced expulsion and this may have led to explosive riots. "Political effects of the Depression were that capitalist system failed." 20 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett introduced unemployment insurance and minimum wages after he was defeated by W.L. Mackenzie King, when it was too late. Both Bennett and Mackenzie King refused to give work to the jobless and insisted that the provinces should be responsible for them, which resulted in insufficient care for the homeless. In 1934 Bennett helped establish the Bank of Canada. The Canadian Wheat Board was established in 1935 which helped promote minimum price for wheat. In 1940, the federal government introduced Unemployment Insurance. Among the reform movements which took place during the depression were: The Social Credit theories of Alberta Premier William Aberhart, and democratic Socialism of J.S. Woodsworth as well as the New Democracy movement of W.D. Herridge. 21 R.B. Bennett extended raw material processing and the use of tariffs and trade preferences to protect and encourage employment. In 1939, there was a Prairie Assistance Act, which gave tremendous protection to the small producers as well as an insurance plan against crop failures. In 1930, R.B. Bennett promised to end unemployment, but did not. Prime Minister Bennett developed the Farmers Creditors Arrangement Act which "cleared more than $200 million in farm debts to banks and mortgage companies, and business who joined the reconstruction Party in 1935 to try and reorganize our chaotic enemy." 22 R.B. Bennett tried to help out with the unemployment problem through higher tariffs and unemployment benefits. This still did not work because the jobless rate kept increasing. Bennett thought the problem of the 1930's was a seasonal and temporary one. Bennett also believed that sharply boosting the protective tariff would stimulate confidence, create jobs by reducing reliance upon imports and force other nations to lower their trading barriers against Canadian exports." 23 The first priority of government was to reduce the deficit so it couldn't create jobs. His unemployment policy included eliminating the deficit, balancing the federal budget, and keeping expenditure on the jobless down to a low level. His government would pay only one third of the cost of direct relief in any town or city and contribute nothing to cost of administration. 24 On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler gave orders to start World War Two. On September 10, 1939, Canada declared war and so everyone was at work for the next 6 years. Great Depression ended with World War two, "courtesy of Adolf Hitler" 25 Among all the hardships during the Great Depression, "People were more united than any time in the past" 26 This is because they helped each other out during this period of struggles and tribulations. The Great Depression was as Barry Broadfoot claims: 10 years that were the most traumatic in our nations history, the most deliberating, the most devastating and the most horrendous. 27 Starting with the New York Stock Market Crash in 1929 until World War II began in 1939, the Prairie provinces experienced many changes which had a crushing impact upon the people and economy. The Great Depression in the Prairies was of extreme importance as it affected the entire region until World War II began.

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