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The Great Depression

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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

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