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Chapter VI

The Great Depression and the Re-integration of Rhineland Society 1929-39

The decade from 1929 to 1939 was more than a period of economic recession in the R.M. of Rhineland. Plummeting farm prices, drought, grasshoppers and high farm indebtedness made mere survival an ac­ complishment. As farmers struggled to retain ownership of their farms, many came to lose faith in stability and security. Along with this loss of faith came a questioning of the values of political and economic life in Canadian society, which produced a significant restructuring of society in Rhineland.

Since World War I, school legislation, immigration and tech­ nological advances had weakened Mennonite social and economic institutions. While the Mennonite Church remained a prominent ele­ ment in Rhineland society, it no longer directly affected all spheres of daily life. Agriculture, schools, and social relations became more secular and individualistic as residents adapted to the Canadian way of life. When the economy collapsed in 1929, the Mennonite Church was no longer able to respond economically in the tradition of mutual aid. In fact, the most prominent Mennonite mutual aid institution, the Waisenamt, collapsed with the onset of the depression.

Thus, faced with the failure of both individualistic, competitive capitalism and traditional church mutual aid institutions, many of the residents of Rhineland turned to secular co-operative action to meet local and community needs. While the Mennonite tradition of mutual aid eased the acceptance of co-operative action, it was not the main impetus behind it. This came from the idea of community self help and