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The Great Depression In Canada During 1920s History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

A recession is when a neighbour has to tighten his belt. A depression is when you have to tighten your own belt. And a panic is when you have no belt to tighten and your pants fall down. “ – Politician an activist, Tommy Douglas.

During the 1920s, Canada’s economy has boomed majorly after WW1. Many great inventions were made, the role of women has changed, and businesses as well as industries, over expanded. However, the prosperity of the 1920s came to a halt on 29 of October, 1929. The major causes of this horrendous time period was the over-production/over-expansion, dependence on staple products, and primarily; the stock market crash. It was a relentless worldwide economic crisis in the decade preceding World War II.

In the decade of the 20s, many industries were expanding. As a result of theses expansions, supplies such as food, minerals, and cars stayed piled. Workers as well as their families had less money to spend. Consequently, sales deliberated even more. Canada’s economy (mainly the west) depended majorly on staple products. This led them to be the hardest hit regions because they did not have other things to sell. A major problem Canada had suffered so greatly was because Canada’s economy was closely connected to the U.S. As a result, Americans were not in need of Canada’s resources. Therefore, Canada stumbled greatly because they were not dependent enough on their own.

. Throughout the 1920s, credit buying and buying on margin became more and more popular as new inventions were being made. With added interest payments many families got themselves hopelessly into debt. Many families got themselves desperately in debt without realizing how much they spent. This became a major problem because if the employee or wage owner became sick or was laid off, it would be impossible to pay back the loan. Additionally, ambling on the stock market became very popular and common, it was not limited just to those who owned businesses and possessions. As well as average citizens who wanted to get rich fast. The scheme was that as soon as the stocks went up in value, they could sell them and pay back the broker and keep the profits. Unfortunately, not all stocks went up, and this lead to the atrocious stock market crash.

The 20s was certainly a decade of freedom for most, and in addition, many incredible products were invented and improved upon. However, a phenomenal depression struck at the end of the 1920s, leaving Canada, and many other countries in great despair.

When the Depression hit, all parts of Canada suffered. However, the hardest hit region was the West. The financial crisis joined with the forces of nature that created dreadful times for prairie farmers. Alberta and Saskatchewan had experienced severe droughts, and without rain, the crops died. This led to serious low percentages of staple products such as, wheat being sold. In addition, provincial income dropped immensely as well. Topsoil was flounced away, and dry wind storms drifted away for hundreds of kilometres. As if this was enough destitution for the West, adding to the devastation were plagues of grasshoppers that infested the crops and a pandemic of wheat rust that demolished the wheat fields. The “dirty thirties” (an acronym used to describe the harsh times of the 30s) brought major ecological problems mainly to the West. The major adversity was the Dust Bowl.

The Dust Bowl was an ecological phenomenon and disaster caused by the misuse of land that affected both, Canada and the United States. The loss of valuable farmland during the time period led many farmers and their families to migrate to other areas that were not as hard hit; like Southern parts of Canada, as well as the Atlantic. In 1935, this ecological crisis led to the creation of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) that coordinated strategies for reducing soil erosion. In the present day, PFRA works with prairie farmers to maintain the agricultural industry and to expand strategies for sharing Canadian knowledge and technologies with the international community.

Companies that were producing farming supplies had to cut back production. In turn, this led to layoffs amongst the employees. Additionally, as unemployment rose, fewer people had the luxury to buy other goods such as cars and appliances. Therefore, production in those sectors fell as well. Furthermore, more workers lost their jobs, it was a brutal cycle.

Even though the prairies experienced the most hardship of the Depression, other parts of Canada suffered as well. For British Columbia, fish, lumber, as well as fruit markets were considerably low. Workers in this particular industry experienced the full effects of the economic downturn as the global demand for resources dried up. Newfoundland was hit hard too. In 1934, Newfoundland had to submit its government to ask for financial aid from Britain. The industrial heartland of southern Ontario and Quebec experienced unemployment, as mining and forest incomes from exports had dropped. Luckily, their domestic market was protected because of tariffs.

Although the 30s brought great grief to many people, not all suffered the same as others. A few wealthy Canadians benefited from the Depression. Everything was low in value, they were able to but farms, lands, and homes at cheap rates and sell it later on for a higher percentage. As well, many big companies as well as corporations became profitable because they did not have to give it out as many wages, as more and more people were laid off. For most of Canadians, however, minimum wage was the only wage – if they had any at all. The daily struggle to maintain the necessities of the family was a huge problem many families faced. Finding a decent job was even worse. Many men sacrificed their lives to support their family, and keep their dignity.

The lack of jobs forcefully made many men to leave their families in search of work. As a result, many “rode the rails” on top of boxcars or on the rods beneath the cars. When a child turned 16, the family’s relief was cut. Consecutively, young men left home to reduce the burden on their families. Thousands travelled west for work. When they recognized that there were no opportunities there, they continued on to British Columbia.

In Vancouver, they besieged charities, relief unions, along with churches. The conservative party of Bennett set up relief camps to avoid the roaming mass of young unemployed workers. These work and or, relief camps were located in remote areas such as northern Ontario and central British Columbia. Over 200 000 single men 18 years and older lived in these camps. Life in these camps was strict and misery. There were regulations for many things. Men worked hard, long hours doing different tasks: cutting trees, moving rocks, and building roads, forcefully all for just 20 cents.

Many men slept in crowded auditoriums and ate disgusting, greasy soups and water stews. Many felt that these camps were like living in prison. An 18-year old relief camp worker expressed his melancholy, stating “It was jail, you know. What else would you call it? … If you thought the army was bad, then you don’t know about one of those camps… They treated us like dirt. And we weren’t. We were up against it, broke, tired, hungry …”

Although the terms of the relief camps were unbearable, the young men were still motivated to keep on pushing through to make a living in any way possible. However, the austere life of the camps left many men angry and frustrated. Many workers began to listen to demands for fundamental, social, and economic change articulated by groups like the Communist Party of Canada. During the spring of 1935, thousands of camp workers in British Columbia formed the Relief Camp Worker’s Union (RCWU). Men went on strike demanding higher wages, better food, clothing, and shelter. In both April and May, the strikers went on to Vancouver. Soon enough, they had launched On-to-Ottawa trek 3 June, 1935. Over 1600 men boarded freight trains to Ottawa to conference with Prime Minister, R.B Bennett.

In Ottawa, Bennett was determined to stop these protestors. On 14 June, Bennett commanded police to stop the progress of the trains at Regina. His tactic was to invite Trek leaders to Ottawa, hoping that their absence in Regina would end the protest peacefully. However, his plan was wrecked because the men found out. Unwillingly, many workers returned back to the camps. To Bennett, it was a triumph but almost lost his reputation in doing so. With so much economic pressure, citizens turned to politics to solve the global crisis. Canada voted Bennett against former P.M, King. They brought in conservative lawyer, Richard Bennett, hoping that he change the economy for the better. Although he set aside millions of dollars for emergency and amplified tariffs on imported products, they did little to overturn the country’s economic losses. Bennett’s other plans was to confidently, oppose a new policy that aimed at providing relief and economic recovery. On January 1935, P.M Bennett proclaimed his “new deal.” Bennett made new promises including, including unemployment insurance and a minimum wage. Nonetheless, many Canadians believed it was too late. They slowly started to campaign for the Liberals. Voters chose King back to power with 173 seats against the Conservatives with 40 seats.

When King returned to power, he found the country’s economy to be very dismal. He did very little trying to undertake unemployment and other dilemmas. Ultimately, the Second World War enhanced the Canada’s economy, as well as other countries around the world.

In conclusion, the decade of the 1930s brought cruel and rigid times to many Canadians, as well as other nations. This time period was the most difficult time Canada had gone through in history. Many people were unemployed, and had very little to eat; if no food at all. These truly were gruesome times for most of Canadian citizens.

Works Cited Page

“On-to-Ottawa Trek and the Regina Riot.” Ww.uregina.ca. Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, Sept. 2006. Web. 6 May 2010. .

“The Depression.” Www.collectionscanada.gc.ca. 4 Oct. 2002. Web. 6 May 2010.


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