Quest in Roots:
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THE DIRTY THIRTIES
From 1927 to 1935 crops were extremely poor due to dry weather, wind, dust storms, rust and grasshoppers. In 1935 many farmers burned their crops because of severe rust. I was one of those farmers.
"The Dirty Thirties" struck everyone a hard blow. Work and money were both very scarce.
Farmers received little cash for their produce such as grain, cattle, eggs, butter, pigs, cream and chickens. Stories have been told about farmers shipping their cattle to the Union Stockyards in Winnipeg. Instead of getting cheques in payment, the odd farmer received a bill for freight charges - the cattle hadn''t brought enough money to pay the freight. What a heartbreak that was! Some families were really hard up and had no money. These needy families were helped by the municipalities and governments through the Unemployment Relief Scheme. The municipalities would buy them groceries, medicine, clothing and pay their hospital bills. These people were then hired to do some municipal work such as brushing, mowing weeds or whatever job was available for them, and the wages were returned to the council to pay the family''s bills.
Some municipalities borrowed money to purchase seed grain for farmers who were unable to do so or had no grain. The sum of $40 was set for each quarter section of land for this seed grain relief. Some farmers took advantage of this scheme by selling all their grain and then purchasing seed grain through the municipality. There was one stipulation in the deal - the farmer had to pay for the seed grain after harvest in the fall.
Unemployment Relief work programs were set up to provide work for the unemployed. One of these projects was the highway construction to Clear Lake. I visited that camp once in the 1930''s.
Some young men from our district and Neepawa worked there, brushing and helping to build a road from Norgate to Clear Lake. The men seemed happy and well fed.
In November 1932, there were about 1,000 men in the relief camp at Clear Lake. With so many men there was a shortage of playing cards. I guess the men spent their evenings playing cards. An article was published in the Neepawa Press asking for old decks of cards for which people had no further use. The cards could be left at the Press office and would be forwarded to the relief camp.
Any relief work provided by the municipality had its cost shared by both the Provincial and Federal governments. The total of $4,000 was set as the figure for relief in each municipality. The cost was shared as follows: 20 per cent Municipal, 30 per cent Provincial and 50 per cent Federal.
In those depression years, some consolidated school districts set up a system for driving school vans to help out the district people. The farmers took turns driving on their own van routes. They were allowed a certain number of days of driving for each quarter section of land that they owned.
Instead of getting a pay cheque, the money went towards paying their land taxes.
In the 1920''s and 1930''s there were many, many families who did not own their own farms.
They rented land wherever they could and generally moved from place to place every two or three years.
Sometimes they could stay in farm buildings only over the winter which meant more moving in the spring. Of course, some people were good renters while others were not.
The municipalities and governments worked together in placing needy families from the city in the vacant houses in the countryside and little towns with the hope of finding jobs for them. I remember one family who came to live in an empty house in our district. Instead of going to the nearby bush for firewood, they simply pulled the boards (siding) off the house and burned them in their stove. They were not very grateful for the help that was being given to them.
Many farmers hired the unemployed men and women for the winter under an employment scheme set up by the Federal government. The hired help received $5 a month from the government which, in turn, gave the farmer $5 for taking the hired help. Most farmers gave their $5 to the hired hands. The farmers had their own meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, canned fruits, butter, lard, soap, and even had their wheat gristed for flour. In other words, their grocery bills consisted of articles needed for cooking and housekeeping. However, the unemployed had a home and food for the cold months.
In spite of the hard times, everyone seemed happy and enjoyed the card parties, dances, skating, curling, etc. through the winter seasons.
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