A Decade Project: The 1930s

Class: Canadian History (CHC2D1)
Date: November 30, 2004
The Assignment: Choose a decade and do a group presentation on it. Individually write an essay focussing on one topic (social, economic, political, etc) as it pertained to the decade.

The depression of the 1930s is said to be the “worst economic crisis of the modern industrial era” (McElvaine p.119). In 1907, 1913, and 1922 there had been “mini” depressions, but none could compare to the depression of the “Dirty Thirties”. Many people could not afford basic necessities, and had to resort to new ways to make money.

Relief camps and relief payments were one way to receive help, but were not often useful. A man working at a relief camp was usually only paid around 15–20 cents a day. “Eventually the men rebelled” (Historica Foundation of Canada) because of bad conditions and low pay. Relief payments were also not of much use because of the many eligibility rules. Applicants must “have been a resident of the municipality for a least one year” (Mennill p.10), making recent immigrants to Canada unqualified. If one was able to meet all conditions they would not even receive actual money, only grocery orders. Soup kitchens were another way for people to get something to eat, but the tickets had limitations as well because there were so many people using them. Long line ups, especially in the winter, were never enjoyable. The tickets were also only good for two meals a day for two weeks.

Factories were popular places to work, though they also had many troubles. Overcrowding was very common, even with bad conditions. There were no towels, soap, or toilet paper in the washrooms, bad ventilation and contaminated air in the work rooms, and insects throughout the factories. Rules in the factories were very strict; workers could be fired for being only a few minutes late. Surprisingly, with all of these problems and with low pay, $2.50 for 8 hours, people would line up just to get a job at a plant.

People who were unable a work often ended up doing odd jobs, but they didn’t always work out. In Prince Edward Island many skunks were running lose so the “government offered 50ยข per skunk snout” (Baldwin p.32) to solve the problem. In the end, people resorted to cheating to get more money. “Get rich quick” schemes were also common, though were eventually banned by the government. During the thirties, “the streets were full of men trying to sell… anything that could be carried door to door” (Braithwaite p.12), even items like used toothbrushes or baby pictures. There were many other jobs people could do, such as cutting grass in cemeteries and shoveling driveways for quarters. Some families would also take in boarders.

During the Depression, people often came up with alternatives to save money. “Bennett Buggies”, cars pulled by horses, were popular because few could afford gasoline for cars. Children would peel street car tickets in half so that they could use them twice. Instead of going to a hairdresser, people would cut their hair themselves. Some people couldn’t come up with ideas and gave up luxuries instead of finding substitutes: some people had “not been to the dentist for… three years. [They] can’t afford it” (Martin p.22). Even when using cheaper alternatives, many would still have to resort to “riding the rods”, taking trains to other cities to find work.

It was not until 1939, the beginning of World War II, that Canada would escape the Great Depression. Relief camps and relief payments were discarded in favour of rationing. Factories started to make war vehicles and ammunitions. Odd jobs and innovative ideas were no longer needed. Though wars are never happy experiences, it helped to bring prosperity and growth to the economy.


Baldwin, D., & Baldwin, P. (2000). Canada through the decades: the 1930s. Alberta: Weigl Educational Publishers.

Braithwaite, M. (1977). The hungry thirties. Ontario: Natural Science of Canada.

Historica Foundation of Canada. (2004). Great depression. Retrieved November 27, 2004 on the World Wide Web. <http://www.canadianencyclopedia.ca/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=J1ARTJ0003425>

Martin, L., & Wright, T. (2004). The economy: from farms to cyberworld. Rubicon Education.

McElvaine, Robert S. (2003). Depression, Great. In The New Book of Knowledge (vol. 4, pp. 119–120). Connecticut: Grolier Publishing.

Mennill, P. (1978). The depression years: Canada in the 1930s. Ontario: Prentice-Hall of Canada.