FARM LABOUR IN TRANSITION:
OCCUPATIONAL STRUCTURE
AND ECONOMIC DEPENDENCY
IN ALBERTA, 1921-1951

D. McGinnis

n his book Ten Lost Years 1929-1939, Barry Broadfoot records the following:

When I was 18 there wasn't much use hanging around the place no more, the farm where my folks lived, because there just weren't no crops and if I left quietly no one was going to notice and so I got a ride with a cattle buyer and got to Calgary where it was 'Move along' and 'Keep moving, fellows' and all that, so you could see it wasn't the best place for a single man with no prospects. 1

Whether this is 1933 or 1937 is not particularly significant. Nor is it especially important that this young fellow is moving off a farm located somewhere in southwestern Saskatchewan. His plight is characteristic of the depression years. Few jobs were available in the towns. For most of the agricultural labour force, the thirties were times to dig in and hold the line. Never in her entire history was Alberta so profoundly rural and agricultural; yet never was her population so desperately impoverished. In 1936 fully sixty-three percent of the population was rural and fifty-two percent of the labour force occupied in agriculture. The patterns of settlement and the occupational structures built up during Alberta's first economy—the pioneer economy of the first thirty years of this century—held, but it was the end of an epoch. It was a watershed.

In the fifteen years between 1936 and 1951 the rural population declined by 35,022. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. All of the natural increase was lost as well, and this was in the order of 118,000 inhabitants. 2 In other words, there was a

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