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A Depression-era Christmas message

The Story


It's Christmas day, 1936. As part of the CBC's effort to broadcast Christmas messages from across the country, a reporter visits with a farm family in drought-stricken Saskatchewan. Even though times are tough for Mr. And Mrs. Mack, their Christmas message isn't full of gloom. It's all about faith, courage and optimism. These are the qualities that exemplify the "true Canadian," according to Mr. Mack, who also credits his wife's encouragement for keeping the family in good spirits during these hard times. 

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Dec. 25, 1936
Guest(s): Mr. Mack, Mrs. Mack
Duration: 3:07
This clip has poor audio.
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Did You know?


• Because of the positive attitudes often expressed by Western farmers during the extremely difficult 1930s drought years, the rest of the country soon came to view Prairie farmers as being strong, courageous and full of optimism. As Canadian historian Gerald Friesen points out, "what is surprising and even inspiring in retrospect is the determination of the farm community in the southern prairies to confront the Depression head on and defeat it."

• Optimism and courage alone couldn't sustain everyone, however. Many farmers abandoned their farms to seek work in nearby cities. The situation in the cities wasn't much better though, since they were competing for work with the many unemployed people already looking for jobs during the Depression.
• Some farmers left the Prairies altogether, seeking work in other provinces. About 250,000 people moved out of the Prairies between 1931 and 1941, reversing the flow of population for the first time since 1870.

• Gerald Friesen's book The Canadian Prairies contains an excerpt from a letter written by a Prairie farm mother to Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in 1935, which illustrates how desperate things could get: "Am so worried on account of the children as we never have any vegetables except potatoes… and baby hasn't any shoes… Please help me by lending me some money and I will send you my engagement ring and wedding ring as security." According to Friesen, Bennett sent her $5 as a gift.

• To help deal with the 1930s drought, the federal government formed the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in 1935. The PFRA's early activities included finding ways to control soil drift, demonstrations of new farming techniques, and water development projects such as reservoirs and irrigation works.
• The PFRA still exists today (2004), and its mandate remains essentially the same: "to ensure the sustainable use of the Prairie's irreplaceable soil and water resources."


More

Devastating Dry Spells: Drought on the Prairies more