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Effects Of The Great Depression On Canada

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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
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

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

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.

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


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