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The Pursuit of Well-Being: 1929-1968, The Depression

wheat farming, wheat prices, timbering, welfare programs, Great Depression

When the Great Depression, the worldwide hard times of the 1930s, began in 1929, world trade was cut by half. Markets for Canada’s resource industries, such as mining, timbering, and wheat farming, declined rapidly. In addition, foreign investors invested less money in Canada. The collapse spread throughout the economy, and by 1933 a third of the Canadian workers were unemployed. Factories went out of business or ran far below capacity. People who were still working faced uncertain prospects and deep wage cuts, though the cost of living fell even faster.

Canada had few welfare programs, but 15 percent of all Canadians applied for the relief that was offered. Because the provinces ran the welfare programs, nationwide coordination to attack the problem was lacking. Perhaps the worst situation was on the prairies. Not only did wheat prices fall by two-thirds, ruining many farmers who were already burdened by debt, but a prolonged drought made agriculture difficult or impossible for much of the decade. Things were little better in the rest of the country, and thousands of workers drifted across the country seeking work or food. Canada closed its doors to immigrants for the first time in centuries, and even deported non-Canadians who were on relief.

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