The Great Depression was a period, which seemed to go out of control. The crashing of the stock markets left most Canadians unemployed and in debt, prairie farmers suffered immensely with the inability to produce valuable crops, and the Canadian Government and World War II became influential factors in the ending of the Great Depression. The 1920's meant prosperity for Canada. Canadians living in the 1920's were freer in values, less disciplined, and concerned with material things more than ever before. Many people wanted to get rich quickly, and stock markets in New York, Toronto, and Montreal shot up. On October 24, 1929, many people wanted to sell stocks through the New York Stock Exchange.
More stocks were being sold than bought, and they began to slump. The stock crash became known as the Great Crash of 1929. On Thursday October 29, 1929, the stock markets in Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec also began a steep descent. Suicide became common among men whom the crash meant financial failure and social ruin.
After the stock crash a period of Depression occurred and unemployment was common. By 1933, one out of every four workers in Canada was without a job. Men begged for jobs cutting grass or shoveling snow. Wages were so low that even people with jobs ran into debt. Many businessmen went bankrupt and people all over the country were laid off. Many men disappeared in efforts to look for work.
The province of Saskatchewan set up Relief Commission in 1931. For many, the acceptance of Relief meant failure. Those who did except Relief received $5. 00 a week, or sometimes less. By 1932, many unemployed men were living in Relief Camps across the country.
Work in the Relief Camps usually consisted of meaningless tasks. The camps provided its men with a poor diet and bunks to sleep in. Those living outside of Relief Camps could barely feed their families. Meals consisted of starchy foods such as bread and potatoes. With unemployment rates soaring, many people could not afford coal to heat their homes or to pay electricity bills. Single men, 18 years or older, were housed in rooming houses.
In 1933, the Federal Government began herding single men into work camps run by the army. Camps held more than 115, 000 men over a four year period. Men in camps were paid twenty cents a day for lumbering or road building. All over Canada people were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression.
In all of Canada, the region worst hit by the Great Depression was the prairie. In the 1930's a Canadian farmer's basic crop was wheat. Farmers depended on foreign buyers to sell their grain. After the stock market crash, farmers struggled with sales. The prairies also suffered severely from drought during the Great Depression. The drought turned farmland into a dust storm and farmers lacked the equipment and scientific knowledge to redeem it.
Large dust storms known as "Great Black Blizzards" caused great destruction for people living in the Prairies. Fierce winds blew valuable topsoil into clouds of dust. Dust storms caused dust to pile up high against fences, resulting in cattle straying from their pastures. Wells and rain barrels went dry as well as lakes and sloughs.
Prairie waterfowl starved to death. Families, in desperation to preserve what little water left, shared used water to wash with, leaving the clean water to drink. Drought drove people off their farms in search of work in other areas of Canada. Many moved to the United States or Ontario. Between 1931 and 1937, Saskatchewan lost 66, 000 people. When crops did grow, grasshoppers brought by the drought ruined them.
Golfers dug holes in fields resulting in damaged crops. Farmers also struggled with Russian thistle, which covered entire wheat fields. This period of drought during the Depression is known as The Dirty Thirties. In the summer of 1936, the temperature in Brandon, Manitoba reached a high of 110 degrees in the shade. Within ten days 500 people died from its effects in Ontario. The heat of summer caused a series of Polio epidemics, killing or crippling thousands of North American children.
With in the next year, 3700 cases of Polio were recorded in Canada between July and September, resulting in the deaths of 150 children. By the end of June, wheat crops were burnt out by the hottest days of summer ever. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration recorded the disaster as more than 60 million acres. Half the farmers in Saskatchewan didn't harvest a bushel of grain that year. Winters during the Great Depressions were just as harsh as the summers. In 1936, Western Canada experienced a cold spell lasting two months, causing the closure of country schools.
With unemployment rates soaring, many people could not afford coal to heat their homes or to pay electricity bills. Those receiving Relief could not go to town to claim it because roads were blocked with snow. In February 1936, the temperature in Winnipeg stayed under 40 below for days on end, leaving many stranded in their own homes. Finally in the summer 1938, Prairie farmers thought their luck had finally turned when rainfall increased.
The Saskatchewan Government went into debt from buying $20 million worth of seed grain for farmers in the Badlands. Farmers felt they would finally produce a good crop, but to their disappointment, grasshoppers, hail, and dust devastated the wheat once again. It wasn't until 1939 that the prairies yielded their first good crop in eleven years. Throughout the worst years of the Depression, 1930-1935, R. B.
Bennett was the Prime Minister of Canada. As times got harder for Canadians, Bennett was blamed. Shacks and unemployment camps were called Bennett Borough. Cars unable to run, because of lack of gas, were called Bennett buggies.
Coffee was known as Bennett Coffee. In 1935 Bennett created a program. He called for minimum wage, and hours, unemployment insurance, price control, and money for Prairie Provinces. In 1935, Liberals under Mackenzie King won power. Soon after, most of Bennett's new deal was cancelled. The government became active in the lives of businessmen and workers alike.
Mothers received a family allowance. War veterans received money also. Unemployment insurance was created and any man out of work could apply for it. By 1936 some parts of Canada began to recover from the Great Depression.
In Montreal Public Holding Projects were underway, and the Trans Canada Airway gave jobs to men. For Canada, the real end of the Great Depression was caused by the start of World War II. The Great Depression lasted ten years and was followed by five years of World War. During the war the need for materials was massive. Chemical factories, aluminum works, and lumber processing all began to employ men. People could begin to buy more than they had during the Great Depression; therefore the manufactures could produce more.
Prairie Provinces also benefited because the markets for wheat had began to recover. The Great Depression in Canada posed many problems for Canadians. During this period the economy suffered, unemployment rates raised, and farmers struggled through the drought of the Dirty Thirties. The Great Depression truly was an uncontrollable force assisting the shape of present day Canada.