The depression

FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Between the stock market crash in October 1929 and the outbreak of the war in 1939, western Canadians and I suspect all Canadians, experience a ten year run of pretty bad luck. Well actually it wasn't luck, because there were a number of terms used to describe the period. Since the era was also the time of a severe drought and with the kind of soil conservation methods of the period, the soil and air tended to mix and hence the time was often called the "dirty thirties." But no matter what we call it, the "great depression" is the economic descriptor and the lessons taught and learned persist, passed on from generation to generation
This photograph was taken sometime during the depression of a little family living at Admiral Saskatchewan. The father of the family was a blacksmith with three daughters and two sons. When this picture was taken, son number two had not yet arrived. The mother in the picture died very young but all three daughters are still alive today while the two boys in the family had much shorter lives.
Why I am taking you to the depression today is because I was transported there by this image. It was sent to me for restoration and as I worked through the details the time, now some sixty-eight years ago, worked its way off the screen in front of me.
So much in our lives has changed since the depression, much of it technology, but in turn, that technology has changed how we live and what we expect out of life. This little house did not have electricity but depended upon kerosene lanterns when the sun went down. Running water was and still is not available in much of rural Saskatchewan, which meant that public health and the diseases our modern sanitation protects us from was not available. Radio arrived in Saskatchewan in the 1920 and by the time this picture was taken families, realising the importance of being informed, had obtained a battery power radio and the wire up on the left hand side of this image indicates this house had a radio.
But times were tough. Agriculture in the thirties was mostly horse farming and this meant that the farms were small with a family on almost every quarter section. This family depended upon the success of farming as a blacksmith was vital to keeping the horses in shoes, the wheels on the wagons and equipment repaired. When the farm production became worthless after the crash of 1929, there was no money for the necessities and the blacksmith and his family had to make do with what they could do themselves.
The evidence is in this pictures, despite the drought, which hit the part of Saskatchewan in which they lived as bad as any, this family had a vegetable garden in the front yard and along the walk that looks a lot like tomatoes.
Water was a real issue and without a village distribution system, each family had to find a way to gather water and this little house has an elaborate system of collection gear to take rain from the roof and get it into the basement cistern.
The three little girls are not well dressed, although mother and the little boy have on their Sunday best, including her string of pearls, it is clear that there was no car for the driveway and the garden wasn't a hobby, but a necessity to put food on their table.
My mother, my grandmother and my Uncle Karl were responsible for making sure I knew about the depression. Mother told of the horrors of the hail storms and the violence of the black blizzards. She told of the relief sent out from Ontario, molasses, jam, apples, some clothing and it was appreciated, for many families the only treat was what came on those trains. My grandmother saw the depression as a massive set back, for she remembered the progress her family had made developing their farm so it could support them, seeing the first car in the area and then getting on with her life and her own family, only to be struck with the drought , quack grass and worthless products. My Uncle Karl saw the thirties with some perspective, knowing that it wasn't the end of the world and that they did survive it, but also knowing that the debt and economic hardship virtually erased the gains of the three decades before.
Out of the depression came several really important agricultural developments, things that paid off this past year. With even less rain than during the thirties, soil drifting was kept to a minimum and the advanced systems of farming conserved what little moisture was available. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act was largely responsible for these measures.
What is just as startling are the lessons that were not learned. The economic crunch that devastated Saskatchewan farms lead to the development of the farmer's co-operative grain company, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool yet here we are seeing the co-op turned into a bankrupt private corporation, Realising that if each person tackled the problems of a depression on their own, they would most certainly fail, two political parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum emerged out of the thirties to find successful political and economic solutions. In Alberta the Social Credit was enormously successful, just as the people of Saskatchewan formed the CCF which was just as successful. The lesson for each was clear, that no matter which direction you approached a problem, if you did it working with each other the nature of democracy would lead to success. Today both parties have disappeared and lost the essentials that made them successful.
But the legacy of the depression will not leave this land. As sure as the sun will shine tomorrow, or at least it will rise above the overcast, we can be certain that people who depend upon the land and the weather, we will always be faced with possible catastrophe. As a child I learned that wasting food was a major unforgivable sin, as my mother knew full well what it was like for there to be not enough to eat, so never ever waste the blessing of enough to eat.
The depression is the underlying message, it is the background to every political speech, for prairie listeners measure the validity of the message against the lessons of the thirties.
We survived the depression, our land was wrecked, economy chronically damaged for decades, the debts of the era set the stage for the economy of Western Canada today. But the depression is not my story, it is the story of us all. Send me your pictures and stories of what the depression meant to your family, or what it means to you today, so we might share these with each other. Let us do this while there are still many around who can tell us first hand what it was like. (All print material sent to us for reproduction will be scanned and returned for your safe keeping: Faster Than Light Communications, box 1776, Tisdale, Saskatchewan, S0E 1T0)

Timothy W. Shire



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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
Faster Than Light Communication
Box 1776, Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Canada, S0E 1T0
306 873 2004