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Conditions in the Canadian West
During the Depression


How families in stricken prairie areas have managed to live during these trying times. Those too proud to accept relief have exhibited considerable ingenuity in devising ways and means of augmenting the family income. For one thing the old spinning wheel has come back into use again. In a small Manitoba town a blacksmith took advantage of this sudden demand for spinning wheels to revamp his shop into a spinning wheel factory and business boomed so quickly he had to take on additional help. In the Edenwold district, east of Regina, one family with butter and eggs to sell debated whether it was worth while to spend the money for gasoline to take their produce to Regina. They solved the problem by filling the old Model T Ford with cut firewood and the sale value of the wood paid the expenses of the trip. Another farmer near Rouleau, Sask., despaired of selling his hogs in the ordinary way for the price was at rock bottom. He conceived the idea of manufacturing the entire hog into sausage and the word spread that his sausage was good, so he was forced to go out and buy the hogs of his neighbours. The spinning industry was revived because the price of wool was so low as to make it unprofitable to sell. The government instructors quickly adapted their training to the changed conditions and showed the farm women how to make blankets out of the raw wool. Unable to buy new cars and by the same token unable to buy gasoline for the old car, or even to buy a buggy, the farmers have taken the engines out of their old Model T Fords, hitched a tongue and whiffle-trees to the front axle and called it a "Bennett" buggy. Others have put a seat on the front wheels of a Model T and have christened this an "Anderson" cart. Probably Premiers Bennett and Anderson will not feel flattered at the use of their names in this connection, but it is a reflection of the spirit of the times.... One item of expense the farmer has eliminated is that of flour. With thousands of bushels in his granaries that the market price doomed to remain there, the farmer took five or ten bushels to the small grist mill for his own flour. If he had no money to pay for the milling he left the bran and shorts with the miller in payment. The average farm family has limited its purchases to sugar and tea, for which no substitutes can be found on the land. A few dozen eggs or a few pounds of butter can take care of these requirements. Some enterprising businessmen, such as local theatre and skating rink managers offered to take wheat and barley as payment for admission prices. They tell the story of a Manitoba farmer who met two acquaintances outside a beer parlor. "Lets go in for a beer," he suggested. The three quaffed their bottles of beer and when the host arose to go he turned to the hotel-keeper. "I'll bring you ten bushels of barley to pay for that." he said. Until organized relief measures came to the aid of the farmer the fuel problem was his greatest worry. You can drive a day at a time in some parts of Saskatchewan and never see a tree or a bush. Those farmers burned coal in the good days, but in their necessity they had no money with which to buy coal. So they burned barley. But they have caught a vision of better times, with the upward trend of the wheat market. Those courageous enough to hold their crop over from last year have sold it this summer, mostly in small lots, for a carload shipment would excite comment and perhaps invoke a seizure order from the bank, the implement agent or the mortgage company. So they have sold a lot of their grain a hundred bushels at a time and they are paying their small debts, preferably their store bills. They feel the banks, the implement companies and the mortgage companies can wait a bit longer for their money.... There will be money to spend in western Canada this year if the market price of grain keeps up. The farmer is starved for everything that contributes to the comfort and well-being of his family and as soon as he gets some surplus cash he will turn it loose into the avenues of trade....

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