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But the CCF would subsequently enjoy strong support in only a few provinces notably British Columbia and Saskatchewan and would make no inroads east of Ontario. Other newly-organized movements of protest existed on mainly a provincial or regional basis. Most had populist roots. Perhaps the most influential of the new creations was the Social Credit Party of Alberta, which emerged out of the travails of farmers in that province. In , Aberhart was converted to the economic theories of a Scottish engineer named C.

Douglas, a monetary theorist who believed that capitalism was incapable of distributing purchasing power to the masses of people. Douglas advocated the distribution of money, in the form of "social credit," to enable people to buy the goods and services they produced.

Aberhart took over these theories, which he did not fully understand, and converted them into a practical platform overlaid with fundamentalist evangelicalism. The new party swept to victory at the polls in Over the next few years, much of its economic program would be disallowed by the federal courts as unconstitutional. But the party remained in power in Alberta until Versions of Social Credit sprang up all over the western provinces, and a British Columbia variant would govern British Columbia for over twenty years beginning in In Quebec, a popular leader with tendencies toward demagoguery emerged in in the person of Maurice Duplessis — These two movements merged to create a powerful force for attacking the capitalist system.

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Great Depression in Canada - Wikipedia

Duplessis insisted that Quebec was owned by foreigners. What was needed was "l'achat chez nous" ["buying at home"] and the destruction of the great financial establishments. When in power, Duplessis quickly abandoned the reform program that brought him into office, retaining mainly only a concern for provincial autonomy, a fervent anti-Communism—the "Padlock Act" of closed any place suspected of disseminating Communist propaganda—and a paternalist program of grants and handouts for the disadvantaged. Perhaps the most effective movement of Catholic social action occurred in the Maritime region, peopled by farmer-fishers who had no control over marketing and distribution.

The Antigonish movement gained its impetus from two Roman Catholic priests at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia —Father James Tompkins and Father Moses Coady—who advocated that small producers regain power over their own production and consumption through economic cooperation in the forms of cooperative banks, stores, and marketing agencies.

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The Antigonish ideology, like most populist movements of the Depression in Canada, was a curious mixture of radical rhetoric and conservative attitudes, well designed to appeal to small producers. From a political and constitutional perspective, the most extreme action of the s occurred not in Canada but in its neighboring Dominion of Newfoundland. The economy of Newfoundland was so dependent on fish and other extractive resources that failed to find markets in the early s that the government was not only forced to declare bankruptcy but to place itself under the tutelage of Great Britain , which administered Newfoundland through appointed trustees.

The trusteeship remained until, by a series of contorted steps, Newfoundland finally joined the Canadian Confederation in The thirties in Canada were periodically punctuated by outbreaks of public discontent that often turned to violence. Some of the violence occurred when spontaneous demonstrations were broken up by authorities apprehensive of the threat to social order.

This was the case in both a famous riot in Vancouver in and in a subsequent riot in Regina that occurred when police armed with baseball bats moved to disperse a group of unemployed Canadians travelling to Ottawa to protest their situation. Much of the violence resulted from confrontations between organized labor and the authorities. On the whole, labor unions did not flourish during the hard times of the s, but many workers fought desperately to maintain their position. Police and even the militia were often called upon in strike situations.

Some strikes were gestures of desperation, such as that by coalminers in Saskatchewan in , which ended in a riot in Estevan.

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Later in the decade, when economic conditions were better and workers attempted to organize industrial unions in the factories, both management and governments desperately opposed such actions. What is perhaps the outstanding feature of public discontent in Canada was how seldom it led to violence and how little damage was done to life and property. As in most jurisdictions, the length and intensity of the Depression in Canada dramatized the inadequacy of the existing arrangements for social justice, thus giving a substantial boost to debate over schemes of social protection, especially in the public sector.


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Contrary to much popular mythology, a fair amount of social insurance was in existence in Canada before the Depression and was extended during the s, almost entirely on a provincial basis. Little reform occurred on a national or federal level, however, leading critics to argue that Canada lagged behind other nations in its social welfare provisions, although by the early s, all national political parties were committed to reform. A general old-age pension scheme had been introduced by the federal government in , jointly financed by both levels of government and administered by the provinces.

Despite other constitutional limitations, the federal government was clearly responsible for veterans, and various health and pension schemes for those who had fought in World War I took up a substantial proportion of the federal budget in the s. Several provinces attempted to introduce public health -care insurance during the Depression, but were opposed by the medical profession.

On the other hand, the doctors in some provinces did introduce their own schemes of health-care insurance, which became the basis of Blue Cross coverage.

Great Depression in Canada

Compulsory national unemployment insurance was introduced in following a constitutional amendment. However, most national Canadian social insurance schemes were introduced on a piecemeal basis well after the Depression was over. Canada had achieved world recognition as an independent nation as a result of World War I , and became a dominion, an autonomous community within the British Empire , as a result of the Westminster Conference of Throughout the Depression, Canada was an active member of the League of Nations and during the decade developed a small but highly skilled Department of External Affairs, with an extremely limited social view of the world.

In the nation executed a major change of international policy by negotiating a most-favored nation treaty with the United States. This treaty signaled a new emphasis on the Canadian-American relationship, as Canada began to disengage from the British Empire and adopted a continentalist position. Like most of the participants in World War I, Canada was slow to rearm. Canada was for obvious reasons reluctant to come out of its isolationist shell, although events in Europe and elsewhere around the world gradually forced its engagement.

The Canadian government fully supported the British policy of "appeasement" in the later s, and was hardly prepared for World War II. One of the consequences of events in Europe was the emergence of a large number of refugees from Nazi persecution, most of them Jews. Canadian authorities showed little interest in assisting these people, and in actually began limiting Jewish immigration, despite desperate pleas from its Jewish community, which offered to finance refugees at no cost to the government.

A general Canadian suspicion of Jews was even more virulent in Quebec, and the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King was—like previous Canadian governments—obsessed by the need for assimilable newcomers. Canada continued to drag its feet on refugee policy, and never accepted more than a few thousand Jewish refugees. Since the nation was desperately short of scientific, intellectual, and cultural talent, in even the crassest of non-humanitarian terms its refugee policy was a disaster.

In moral terms, the Canadian attitude—summed up by one of its mandarins as "None is too many"—was unconscionable, particularly since the country constantly lectured the world from a high moral pedestal. Perhaps paradoxically, the period of the Depression was in some ways a very positive one for the development of a distinctive Canadian culture, although most popular culture remained dependent on the United States.

Many of the unemployed found solace in their local public libraries, and more than one radical political critic and writer first found his or her voice in the library stacks. The federal government, which was publicly responsible for regulating the airwaves, had received a report from a royal commission in calling for the nationalization of radio, as in Great Britain , instead of allowing private broadcasters, as in the United States. The government eventually decided on a dual system—both public and commercial—establishing by the Broadcasting Act of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which in became the publicly-operated Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with extensive English and French language networks.


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Over the years, the CBC has been the principal patron of Canadian cultural content in the nation, and during the late s it served as the Canadian equivalent of the writers' branch of the Works Progress Administration. On a less public level, the governor-general of Canada, the Earl of Bessborough, spearheaded the creation of the Dominion Drama Festival in , which served to promote amateur regional theater throughout Canada. The Dominion Drama Festival was able to take advantage of a strong upsurge of interest in the theater during the Depression, which came about partly because so many Canadians had free time on their hands and partly because radical intellectuals found drama, poetry, and art to be ideal mediums for expressing their discontent with the status quo.

Much of the most original creative work done in the s in Canada came from the radicals, who were neither part of the university establishment nor of Americanized popular culture. Somehow Canada managed to survive the Depression with its social fabric relatively intact, only to lurch unexpectedly into World War II. Many Canadians were forced to defer their expectations of a better life for nearly an entire generation.

They were as a result eager both to participate in the postwar prosperity and to insure through the gradual elaboration of a network of social welfare provisions that the people of Canada would never again experience such privations. Baillargeon, Denyse. Baum, Gregory. Strikers from unemployment relief camps established by the federal government in British Columbia and Ontario on their way to Ottawa to complain about camp conditions, Their journey was stopped in Regina.

Library and Archives Canada, C Back to Exhibitions. Go to Educational Lab.