Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XXXVII
R. B. Bennett comes to office--The unlucky coincidence with Herbert Hoover

LONG before harvesttime in 1931 the heartland of Canada was reeling under a disaster that both embraced and eclipsed the national disaster. Anybody in need merely of a roof could find roofs to spare on the wheat plains, from which the first small exodus of the defeated had already begun. With that one exception, the West shared virtually every trouble and deprivation known to any part of Canada. It also had a whole special and semi-private set of its own.

In the southwestern part of Manitoba, the whole of southern Saskatchewan, and most of southern Alberta they began discarding the Olympian, impersonal word "depression" and using the more intimate and concrete word "drought." At first "drought" meant only what the dictionary intended it to mean--an appalling and almost total lack of moisture. But as the years went on it came to stand for almost everything that was hard and hostile in the day-to-day business of living. It still meant, above everything, drought itself, but it also stood for dust, hail, rust, and sometimes frost. It stood for fifty-cent wheat and hardly any of that. It stood for grasshoppers and Russian thistle. It stood for relief--relief food, relief clothes, relief bedding, relief seed, relief fodder, relief coal, relief binder twine. It stood for taxes unpaid, mortgage payments unpaid, bank loans unavailable, homeless men sleeping in the hayloft, hungry men turned away from the door, darkened boarded-up windows on the next farm down the road, plowshares striking against hardpan, the last crushing signal that the topsoil was gone and with it the land itself.

Against the assault of the drought and its choking winds, fields

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