Drifting soil and abandoned farms became an all-too-familiar sight in southern Saskatchewan as a result of the drought of the thirties. Coincident with the drought was a worldwide depression which created widespread unemployment and a drastic fall in prices for agricultural products. It was a time of severe economic difficulty that placed a heavy burden on governments to provide relief for those unable to provide the necessities of life for themselves. By the time the decade of the thirties ended here had been severe social and economic dislocations, and political changes had occurred in the province.
An abandoned Farm near Estevan, 1939.
Well, I remember when the first dirt storms hit us. It was dead still outside and we wondered if it was a tornado or something that was coming, the sky was so black and we just stood outside and watched it and the air was just still and then it hit us. We had to hold pillows at the windows to keep them from breaking. It was just like a sheet of black; it was just dirt; it came from the west and from then on we had terrific dirt forms. Nothing grew, not even the weeds on the summer fallow which is something.
Edna Staples McIntosh, interview
Estevan Riot, 29 September 1931:
street scene during the riot.
In 1931, tension between coal miners and mine owners in the Estevan area reached a breaking point. The roots of the trouble lay in the seasonal nature of the coal work, low wages, and poor working and living conditions. Actual conflict, was triggered by the economic dislocations of a mounting depression. A month-long strike among the mineworkers culminated in a tragic clash, known as "Black Tuesday," which resulted in three deaths and numerous injuries sustained by strikers, police, and bystanders.
Police and striking miners clashed on the streets of Estevan today when the authorities attempted to prevent miners . . . from entering town and parading.
The miners . . . proceeded to Estevan with the avowed intention of going to the town hall, where their meeting had been forbidden . . . When within a block of the town hall, the miners were met by a cordon of police . . . then the trouble started. . . .
29 September, 1931
Estevan Riot, 29 September 1931: fire brigade
connecting hose to use against strikers.
George H. Williams, President of the United Farmers of Canada
(Saskatchewan Section) addressing a farmers' picnic
at St. Walburg, 1930.
This farmers organization was formed in 1926, by an amalgamation of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association and the Farmers Union of Canada.
What would be my advice to you in these times of trial?. . . I believe that the greatest reason why we farmers have never got very far along the road is because we did not know which road we wanted to travel, . . . we
must decide whether we are really going to accept as our road, the road to a social commonwealth, or continue to support a system of individualism and worship at the shrine of personal gain. Self or Society? Individual wealth or commonwealth? Which road? . . .
My friends, you have a right to the possession and enjoyment of the homes you have built. You have a right to a living from the fruits of your labour. You have a right to give your children the kind of future you planned for them when you brought them into this world.
George H. Williams,
Politics in the thirties.
During the 1930s, a number of parties sought the support of the electorate in the two general elections of 1934 and 1938, including two new parties, the Farmer-Labour Group (C.C.F.) formed by an amalgamation of the Political Directive Board of the United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) and the Independent Labor party, and the Social Credit party which moved in from Alberta.
An Anderson cart, place unknown, 1937
The carts were named after Premier J. T. M. Anderson.
The political parties which emerged during the thirties were attempts to meet the economic crisis. Of all the people in Canada, the farmers in Saskatchewan were perhaps hardest hit by the depression, for they suffered most from drought, wheat rust, and insects.
Anderson carts are pressing the Bennett buggies for popular favour on Saskatchewan farms. Really, the only difference is that the buggies have four wheels and the carts have only two.
The buggies are really wagons and are far better than the old farm wagons, easier hauling, easier to ride in and do not have to be greased so frequently.
Regina Daily Star,
22 June 1933
A Bennett buggy along a drifted roadway,
place and date unknown.
That year . . . 1931, things did not improve but grew progressively worse. . . . The term "Bennett buggy" began to be heard on the farm. The [automobile] body, with motor and innards removed, just the frame left, a little blacksmithing for a hitch, a pole and the farmers had a vehicle on rubber, horse drawn which would have been much appreciated in horse and wagon days.
S. Richard, Reminiscences
Farmers picking up grasshopper poison,
Indian Head, June 1939.
The farmers could not control the drought but they put up a very strong fight to try to control the hordes of grasshoppers that were eating every green stalk of grain or grass in the country. They spread hundreds of tons of poisoned saw dust over their fields and road allowances early in the morning so that it would be there for the hoppers to eat when the temperature would be right for feeding.
J. A. Capling,
Moving from Morse to Carrot River.
Drought in the southern part of the province forced many farm families to seek new homes to the north, where land still had to be cleared and broken.
A large number of newcomers have been arriving and settling in the surrounding districts [Shell Lake] during the past week. . . . The real pioneer spirit was shown by one farmer who passed through . . . leading a small milk cow of doubtful ancestry that was hitched with home-made harness between rough pole shafts to a cart constructed of two large wheels that upheld a horse rake. . . . Many hardships are encountered by these newcomers who have been arriving almost every day from less fortunate districts in the south.
22 October 1932
Brush clearing equipment used in
northern Saskatchewan, 1936.
Berry pickers, place unknown,
about the 1930s.
We escaped the drought, dust storms and grasshoppers of the prairies and we always had enough to eat, though sometimes there wasn't much variety. In the summer, we picked and canned wild raspberries. strawberries, cranberries, saskatoons and blueberries. . . . Our gardens usually provided plenty of vegetables and they kept well in those old 'dirt cellars', without a furnace. In the early summer, we cooked pigweed (lamb's quarters) and I think it tasted better than spinach. We ground wheat for porridge and roasted ground wheat or barley for coffee.
Haying in the Erwood district, 1933.
The family bought a team of horses but one died of swamp fever. The neighbor teamed up his dark horse with the family's gray horse to put up hay.
The change from prairie wool hay in the south to slough hay in the north was terribly hard on the cattle and horses. . . . Then the swamp fever came in . . . and they just died off something terrible. We lost most of them. . . . They come from the prairies and come into this country, into the sloughs. It was too big a change for them. It was rough on animals and people also.
Listing, place and date unknown.
In 1935, the Dominion government passed the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act to assist farmers to reduce the destructive effects of drought and soil drifting. Before the lands could be brought back to production, soil drifting had to be stopped. One of the techniques used was "listing," which consisted of gouging deep furrows and seeding them to grain or grass. The detailed development of the rehabilitation program involved the
co-operation and work of a number of Dominion and provincial agencies and the dedicated work of many individuals.
A farm dugout,
place and date unknown.
a farm dugout, place and date unknown. Many dugouts were constructed with the assistance of Prairie Farm Rehabilitation services to provide a supply of water for farm livestock.
Relief diet, Saskatoon,
Cities were not immune from economic difficulties. Many urban residents found themselves unemployed and in need of relief. Heavy social burdens fell on city governments as the numbers in need soared.
Top - The Saskatoon Riot, 9 May 1933.
Bottom - Relief project, Broadway Bridge, Saskatoon, 1932:
(Top) - The riot developed when Saskatoon City Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police attempted to transfer fifty of the single unemployed men housed at the Saskatoon Exhibition Buildings to another camp. Inspector L. J. Sampson of the R.C.M.P. died as a result of injuries sustained when he fell and was dragged by his horse.
(Bottom) - Pouring concrete for the street railway tracks. The total estimated cost of the bridge, $850,000, was met by the City of Saskatoon, the Dominion government, and the Province of Saskatchewan.
Top - Riding the rods, 1931, Bottom - unemployed drifters,
place unknown, 1931.
On the Saturday night of April 15, 1932, my friend and I took the last street car out to Sutherland having previously found out that a freight train was leaving for Winnipeg during the early hours of Sunday morning. We slunk around the yards . . . Even I, with 2 pairs underclothing, 2 shirts, a sweater, my brown suit, overalls, overcoat, winter cap and 2 pairs sox was getting chilly. . .. Observing the "bull" walking down the side of the train we waited till he rounded the end before ourselves, hopping out, walked after him and inspected the box cars. All but one were sealed, this "one" being half full of coal. There were already about ten other travellers sprawling in various positions amongst the coal.
Towards late afternoon we arrived at the yards, parked ourselves on the grass outside the fencing and built a fire of old ties and commenced a 7 hour wait.
. . . .As time passed more "travellers" appeared and settled around our fire; soon we had about a dozen fellow "unionists" and grew to discussing "this world of ours" as men often do. . . .
The depression, the railway companies and Bennett were our chief topics. We wisely listened to each others views on depression. Its [sic] due to tariffs, to immigration, the price of wheat, the U.S.A., Russia, war, their "big-bugs", religion, the "bohunks". Nothing but war will bring back prosperity; no cancellation of war debts; no socialism; no God; let 's have the good old days; scrap machinery, to hell with motor cars, deport the Reds, deport the "bohunks", oust Bennett. . . .
Top - Blanket inspection, relief camp, Dundurn, July 1933.
Bottom - Ready to leave for work, relief camp, Dundurn, August 1934.
The men were employed on the local roads and at a gravel pit.
As a measure designed to care for single homeless men without present employment and in need of relief, the department of national defense has been entrusted with the organization of a series of projects on works to the general advantage of Canada. . . .
The conditions under which these works will be carried out are as follows:
Accommodation, clothing, food and medical care will he provided in kind, and an allowance not exceeding 20 cents per diem for each day worked will be issued in cash.
Eight hours per day will be worked; Sundays and statutory holidays will be observed...
Personnel will be free to leave the work to accept other employment offered. . . .
No military discipline or training will be instituted. . . .
Western Producer, 18 May 1933
Charter of Relief Camp Trekkers, 1935.
The On to Ottawa Trek,
The Regina Riot, 1 July, 1935.
Conditions in the relief camps were far from satisfactory from the men's point of view. The camps tended to be isolated, and the wages paid for what was often menial labor were very low. The "On to Ottawa Trek" was organized in British Columbia camps with the idea of taking the unemployed, single men's grievances and demands for improved conditions directly to Prime Minister Bennett. Their demands were incorporated into the accompanying "charter." More than 1,000 men left Vancouver and that number grew to 1,800 by the time they reached Regina.
The federal authorities ordered the trek halted in Regina on 14 June, but, allowed the leaders to go to Ottawa to meet with Mr. Bennett. The prime minister rejected the trekkers' demands. On 1 July, a combined Regina City Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police force attempted to arrest the leaders while they were reporting to a large gathering of strikers and sympathizers in the Regina Market Square. The resultant riot left one local policeman dead and scores of police, trekkers, and citizens injured. The strikers were subsequently dispersed, ending the "On to Ottawa Trek."
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth meeting veterans of the Riel Rebellion of 1885 during their visit to Saskatoon, 3 June 1939. Immediately to the right of the King is Carl Niderost, Mayor of Saskatoon. The veterans (left to right) are Wilfrid Latour, John Pambrun, Thomas Swain.
The depression was lifting as Their Majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made a tour of Canada in the summer of 1939. Another trial - the war - was already emerging on the world horizon. Demonstrations of loyalty and affection greeted the royal couple as their train stopped in many Saskatchewan centres.
The Royal train at Biggar, 3 June, 1939.
Commencing at a very early hour on Saturday morning those intending to see the King and Queen at Biggar started to take to the highways and by 8 o'clock there was a steady stream of traffic going north from Rosetown on No.4 Highway. . . .
At the CNR station at Biggar, a number of small buildings and sheds had been removed and the number of boxcars in the yard reduced to a minimum providing a vantage point from which many viewed the proceedings. . . . a couple of hours before the Royal train was due an immense throng was already in place, being added to as time went on.
8 June, 1939.