Depression of 1930s


A world wide financial panic and economic depression began with the October 1929 United States stock market crash. This depression lasted well into the 1930s and thousands of people throughout the world who were wealthy one day were bankrupt and penniless the next. Many could not cope with their heavy financial losses and suicides by the thousands occurred as a result. In Canada the gross national expenditure declined 42 per cent and 30 per cent of Canada's labour force was unemployed. One of every five Canadians became dependent on government relief for survival. The western provinces were hardest hit and were technically bankrupt in 1932 and onwards. Wages dropped throughout the 1930s and prices declined even faster. The government established relief camps which paid twenty cents a day for construction work in the bush. Working conditions in these camps were extremely poor and there were many uprisings.

Our district was caught in the depression just like any other district. I was only twelve years old at the time, however, I remember it well. I was dependent on my parents for a living so I didn't feel the full brunt of it, but never the less, I was fully aware of what was taking place. There were no jobs available and the prices of goods were at an all time low. You didn't have any money so you had to do without goods and services. At the height of the depression the farmers got five cents for a dozen eggs, you were able to buy a loaf of bread for as little as five cents, milk was five cents a quart and you could buy a package of cigarettes for ten cents.

The farmers were extremely hard hit because farm producer prices fell to an all time low. In 1932 number one wheat sold at the elevators for 33 cents a bushel, number one oats brought 13 cents a bushel, feed oats brought 5 cents a bushel and barley was 13 cents a bushel. According to a Weiller and Williams quotation, dated December 1932 farmers sold a top grade steer for $3.00 per hundred weight or 3 cents a pound live weight, bologna bulls brought 75 cents to $1 per hundred weight, a select hog brought 50 cents per hundred weight and a bacon hog weighing between one hundred and eighty pounds to two hundred and thirty pounds brought a total of $2.90. Cream and butter was also at an all time low price.

The depression years were known as the dirty 30s and most people agreed they were well named. It didn't pay to move from one district to another because no matter where you went the conditions were much the same. People couldn't afford to run their cars so they scrapped them and made wagons from them. They were called Bennett wagons, named after R.B. Bennett who was Canada's prime minister at that time. Thousands of men throughout Canada rode the freight trains during the depression. They paid no fares. If caught some were put off, however, in many cases they were allowed to move about. Most of these riding the freights were penniless and depended on soup kitchens which were set up in various large towns and cities. During the winter months thousands of men from the prairies ended up in British Columbia. When one man was interviewed and asked why he came to B.C. knowing there was no job available for him, his only reply was "If I have to starve to death I may as well do it where it's warm".

The depression was at its worst during 1932 to 1934, however money was still very scarce as late as 1938. In September 1939 World War II broke out and suddenly there was money to burn. Teenagers who were lucky to have 5 cents in their pockets during the early 1930s suddenly found themselves carrying twenty dollars in their pocket books. Suddenly the depression had ended. We can only hope the world will never see another one that bad.