The Relief Years

The Great Depression of the 1930's was a world wide economic condition and locally it resulted in very low prices for all farm produce. Coupled with the depression a large part of the southern part of Saskatchewan suffered severe drought conditions in several of those years. Government assistance (in relief) became necessary in order for many families to survive. In the rural areas direct relief provided meager allowances for food, clothing, fuel (coal) and other items necessary to survive. Much of the farming was still done with horses and all farms had cows, pigs , chickens etc. so that in the drought years it was necessary to supply them with feeds and fodder for livestock. Then in the spring of the year, because of poor crops the previous year, many farmers needed seed and supplies for seeding. In years when there was a crop to harvest some farmers required harvesting supplies and machinery repairs in order to harvest their crops.

All of the assistance was administered through the municipal office and created an extremely heavy work load for the secretary-treasurers. People who required assistance made application to the municipality and after approval, relief orders were made up on the basis of family composition and issued to the applicant. All of the transactions had to be recorded because the recipients were required to sign an undertaking that would repay the amounts they received. Feed and fodder was shipped in by rail car and an accurate record of the distribution was required. The populations of rural municipalities at that time averaged between 1,500 and 2,000 people and while they were not all "on relief" there were some areas where a high percentage of them were. It is impossible for those who were not involved t realize the amount of work that was required in relief administration. The offices and working conditions then were far inferior to present day standards. Most offices had very poor lighting and heating systems, very few had electricity. Office machines would be a vintage 1920's or earlier typewriter and a manually operated adding machine. There was an expression that "Prosperity is Just Around the Corner" and perhaps it was that spirit of optimism that allowed people to endure the hardships.

The Great Depression ended with the start of the Second World War. Most farmers were heavily indebted for arrears on mortgage payments, relief accounts and arrears of taxes. Most of the relief accounts were canceled but it became the task of the secretary-treasurers to collect the remaining relief accounts and the arrears of taxes. Unfortunately some farmers had repaid their relief accounts before the cancellation and they were not reimbursed. This made it more difficult to collect the outstanding accounts. The Farmers' Creditors' Arrangement Act provided that farmers could apply to the courts for an adjustment of their debts, including arrears of taxes. The adjustments caused some accounting problems and made collections more difficult from those who did not get an adjustment.