October 24, 1929. The crash of the New York Stock Exchange brought the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties to a sudden halt. People who had invested heavily in the stock market now hoarded what money they had left; as consumption fell, so too did production and, consequently, employment.
Close economic ties between Canada and the U.S. meant the crash had a huge impact north of the border. The industries of Eastern Canada, experiencing extreme overproduction with the loss of their main trading partners (Britain and the U.S.), faced massive layoffs. The Prairie provinces were highly dependent on the export of wheat, but world wheat prices plummeted. At the same time, drought in parts of the Canadian prairies forced many off their land. By 1933, nearly a third of the Canadian population was out of work, and those who did have work were making only about half what they had been in 1929.
The impact this had on the Creston Valley is the subject of a new exhibit being planned at the Creston Museum for the summer of 2012.
In the 1930s, did the Creston Valley experience similar levels of unemployment and income loss as other parts of the country? There are a number of clues that suggest money was scarce — merchant ads, for example, state that all sales would be on a cash basis — but how did it compare to the rest of the country?
Creston had a good base of mixed farming, so it seems likely that local residents would have been fairly self-sufficient. But dropping world food prices must have affected the viability of farms that shipped their produce elsewhere.
There were many families who moved to the Creston Valley from other parts of the country, particularly Saskatchewan, during the early 1930s. Did these people find better conditions here, than what they had left? Or was Creston’s stability merely a mirage?
There were a number of major projects taking place in the Creston Valley during the Depression years — reclamation of the flats, and the construction of the power dam at Canyon, for example. Did these projects help counteract the effects of the Depression?
The Creston Valley certainly did experience, at least to some extent, the harsh realities of the Depression. There were relief camps, there were unemployed men’s clubs, and there were fundraisers to help needy families. But how prevalent were these realities? Did the relief camps benefit local residents, or were the men working at them from elsewhere? Again, how did Creston’s situation compare to that of other parts of Canada?
If you can help answer any of these questions, the Creston Museum would like to hear from you. Please contact Tammy Hardwick at the Creston Museum (firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-428-9262) to share your stories, or those of your family, relating to the Depression era in the Creston Valley.
— CRESTON MUSEUM