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Ravages Of Great Depression Hit Every Corner Of Saskatchewan
Entire World Affected By Economic Doldrums
But Drought Scourged Vast Prairie Wheatlands

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
June 8, 1965. p.19

"Hard times" they were called in the 1930s.

They were the years of the great depression, when the Saskatchewan farmer, hopefully gazed up at the rainless skies, then watched his crop blow away with the wind.

They were the years, when the harried housewife in both city and country, futilely battled the drifting soil. It seeped under her doors and through her windows, to cover furniture and dishes with a coating of grey.

They were the years, when children blindly felt their way home from school to arrive resembling so many tiny coalmen.

They were the years when relief food and clothing went not to natives of Africa and Asia, but to hard-pressed people on the Canadian plains.

They were the years, when even professional men such as lawyers, resignedly took their place in the breadline with others.

Relief poured into the province from other parts of Canada.

The late D.B. MacRae, editor on the Leader-Post, wrote from Winnipeg: "A bit of Saskatchewan 'scenery' is doing a fine job just off Portage Avenue in pushing along Winnipeg's big plans to provide help for the drouth areas of the sister province. This bit of 'scenery' is going to be on duty 24 hours a day.

"It is an enlarged picture, about three feet by two feet of a bit of soil drifting in southern Saskatchewan. The picture gives the impression of rolling, shifting sand dunes, with wandering Russian thistle piled up as a border and tufted into the background.

"The white and bleached and broken skull of a cow lies on the sand, adding the final touch of tragedy and desolation.

"All afternoon, scores of Winnipeg citizens looked at that picture of the drifted sand, the giants of the Russian thistle family and the bleached skull of the Saskatchewan cow, and then hurries off to ransack the family dwelling.

"Winnipeg seems likely to provide tons of clothing for Saskatchewan."

Relief distribution of food was "as exciting as Christmas is to youngsters," a newspaper correspondent wrote.

At another centre, where carloads of food were parcelled out to drought area sufferers, the collection of many kinds of conveyances provided an unusual sight.

A correspondent reported seeing wheel-barrows, coaster wagons, baby buggies, "Bennett" buggies, ancient automobiles that still had a spark of life in them and all kinds of horse-drawn wagons and carts.

"Almost every rural municipality in the drouth area has been served with one or more cars of foodstuffs," papers reported, "either under the voluntary relief scheme or the federal government plan." Carloads of cheese and codfish were shipped to the province.

At Sudbury, a tag day to help drouth area sufferers brought $128.

Girl Guides conducted the tag and Boy Scouts helped the relief committee of that city collect truckloads of clothing.

From Halifax came word that the Dominion government has purchased 100 cars of Anapolis Valley fruit and 35 cars of fish to be sent west.

Niagara Falls sent three cars of foodstuffs, instead of one as originally planned. People of Aylmer, Ont., shipped a carload of 703 bags of vegetables and several cases of canned goods to Primate, Sask.

Two cars of apples and one of turnips were distributed at Carlyle. What was left over went on to Manor.

Residents of Chaplin celebrated the arrival of two cars of relief supplies, containing apples and vegetables, from Newcastle, N.B. Total of 193 families of 710 people shared the contents.

The most unusual voluntary relief shipment went into the Asquith district, near Saskatoon, where the main means of livelihood was dairying. The car was half-filled with canned milk.

Thus, shipments flowed in from all over Canada to every needy district.

Canadian churches, throughout the Dominion, got behind the drive to aid a desperate Saskatchewan.

But even all this kindly aid could not save some Saskatchewan farmers. Their land could no longer produce their cattle were dying, so they were forced to pack up their homes.

The depression, world-wide in scope, did not hit Saskatchewan harder than most parts of the western world and certainly harder than any other province in Canada.

Factors bringing about the depression and some of the major results were reviewed in the Rowell-Sirois commission's famous report of 1939.

"Canada's most serious economic troubles during the 'thirties had their origin in the impact of the world depression and drouth upon the wheat-growing industry of Saskatchewan," the report revealed.

"This industry, upon which the interdependence and economic integration of the country was chiefly based, suffered the most unfavorable coincidence of circumstances in its history.

"If the repercussions upon other sections of the Dominion were widespread and severe, the conditions in Saskatchewan were nothing short of disastrous. Economically, this area was the most vulnerable in Canada.

"No other province was so completely dependent upon the fluctuations in the export market. Nowhere was production so dependent upon the vagaries of the climate.

"Ruinous prices and drouth were about equally responsible for the disaster. The forces, which so intensified the world depression, fell with particular severity on wheat.

"The national economic policies of the Dominion did nothing to soften the blow.

The full exposure to the adverse world influences drove the prices received by the farmer to levels which during the period 1930 to 1935 averaged less than one-half that of the decade of the twenties.

"Such a decline, in face of the high-fixed costs of western agriculture would have caused general and drastic hardship.

"The addition of the drouth brought outright and widespread destitution, as well as complete inability to operate farms with out government assistance.

"The area affected by successive crop failures was equal to about one-quarter of the total improved farm acreage of Canada. It contained nearly one-half the rural inhabitants of Saskatchewan.

"In 1931, one-half; in 1933 to 1936, one-third; and by 1937, two-thirds of the farm population of the province was destitute.

"Not only was this large section of the population dependent for livelihood upon public charity, but the operating expenses of from one third to two-thirds of Canada's largest export industry had to be met by the government.

"In the case of the Saskatchewan wheat farmer, the failure of the crop involved not merely the loss of the means of livelihood, but also the working capital invested in that crop.

"This working capital had to be made available before there was another chance of the farmer becoming self-supporting.

"The provision of seed, feed fodder and supplies to tens of thousands of large-scale farmers entailed a huge financial burden, not encountered in the relief or industrial unemployment."

In the space of only four years the per capita income of Saskatchewan residents declined 72 per cent.

Improvement began in 1938 and 1939 as crops were better but it took the war years to bring a measure of prosperity back to the province.