Overview

The Great Depression was a time of great suffering across the world, especially in Canada. Depression in the economy happens when there is very little buying and selling, and unemployment rates are high. The Great Depression started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. There are several reasons the Great Depression happened.

These unemployed men are lined up for free soup, coffee, and donuts during the Great Depression.

The Roaring 20s

The 1920s are known as a decade of good times and are often called the ‘Roaring Twenties’. Many people’s lives improved due to a booming economy and new inventions like automobiles, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines.

A man plays a harmonica while wearing a 1920s hat and suit.

Going to dances and listening to jazz music became popular in the 1920s.

After suffering during the First World War, people were ready to have fun. Cinemas (movie theaters), jazz music, radios, and going to dances became popular.

There were many inventions in the 1920s that people were buying to make their lives a bit easier and more enjoyable.

This was an important decade for women. Flappers of the 1920s were young women who wore short knee-high dresses, wore make-up, cut their hair short, listened to jazz music, and wanted more freedom than women had before. These women pushed for change. They began working outside of the home and fighting for women’s rights.
A woman from the 1920s is standing for a photo, wearing short hair, a hat, a knee-length dress and high-heels.

The older generations did not approve of the ‘flappers’ because of their behaviour.

Tough Times for Some

Not everything was ‘roaring’ during the 1920s. After World War I, the price of wheat crashed, and Prairie farmers suffered. Many farmers had taken out large bank loans to buy machinery, new automobiles, and build new wooden houses.

Wheat prices dropped in the 1920s and farmers went into debt.

War Veterans who returned from the war had trouble finding jobs or could only find very low paying jobs. In 1919 a Soldier Settlement Act had provided returned First World War veterans who wished to farm with loans to purchase land, stock, and equipment. About 25,000 veterans took part in this program. Unfortunately, when the tough years came many had to leave the farm because their debt was too high.

An army soldier in his uniform.

About 25,000 war veterans were given farm land to help them earn money for themselves and their families.

The First Nations veterans weren’t treated the same as the white men who served in the war. Although many First Nations veterans expressed an interest in the land program to farm on their own reserve, but they often never received the land.

Canada’s Economy

The First World War left the economies of the world unstable because they had spent large amounts of money to pay for the war. Canada had gone into a significant amount of debt to get through the war.

A man is showing his empty pockets, as a representation of many people at that time that didn't have any money, and had a lot of debt.

The government began charging income tax to pay off their debt.

Canada’s natural resources played a huge role in the economy recovering. Canada started to export more products like lumber, paper, wheat, oil, and minerals (copper, zinc, nickel). Some parts of Canada were doing better than others. Saskatchewan was one province that wasn’t doing well and that was mainly because the price of wheat was much lower after World War One.

The image shows a 1920s city with a bunch of tall, brick city buildings. There are cars and people bustling around.

1921 was the first year that more people lived in urban areas than rural areas in Canada.

The Stock Market

People discovered that another way to make money was to invest in the stock market. The stock market is a place where people buy and sell shares (also called stocks) of a company. If you own a ‘share’, that means you own a small part of the company and share in its profits or losses. A company can be split into hundreds or thousands of shares and have many owners.

A pile of Canadian one hundred dollar bills are shown.

People were trying to make money by buying stocks in the stock market.

One of the biggest stock exchanges in the world is the New York Stock Exchange. People make their trades through brokers. They call their broker and ask them to sell or buy certain stocks.

 

A grand stock exchange building is shown.

This is a stock market building where stocks are bought and sold.

A group of men are working at a stock broker company.

These are stock brokers trading stocks.

Many companies were doing very well in the 1920s because people were buying so much stuff. The stock prices kept going up as more and more people wanted to make money in the stock market. Many people even took out bank loans to buy stocks. Even banks were investing in the stock market.

 

A 1920s style car is shown with an open cab.

People were spending money on things like new automobiles in the 1920s.

Rapid Settlement

Originally, when the Prairies were settled, the southern Prairies were viewed as poor land for homesteads because of its dry land and was left mostly unsettled. However, in the 1920s the Prairies entered a period of a lot of rainfall and was rapidly settled by people who had no idea of the southern Prairie’s history of drought. The drought hit in the 1930s, and these settlers found it nearly impossible to make a living from farming this land.

Many people coming to the Prairies in the 1920s were in a hurry to get land.

There was an unusually wet period in the 1920s so settlers did not realize how dry southern Saskatchewan can get.

Plowing Techniques

Farmers on the Prairies used practices from their home countries, including deeply plowing the soil each year. Although this worked well in areas with plenty of moisture and other plants and trees surrounding the fields, it did not work well on the dry Prairies.

Many farmers allowed their land to rest every few years by not seeding a crop. Farmers would plow the soil several times a year to kill the weeds and they thought this process would help conserve moisture. This practice was called summerfallowing. New farmers were about to learn how hurtful deep plowing and summerfallowing was for the land.

Farmers were losing topsoil and ground moisture from deep plowing techniques.

Deeply plowing the fields caused the moisture to dry up and the soil began to blow away.