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Dustbowl horrors

The Story

In July 1936, writer James Gray "learned something of the horror of living in the dustbowl on a farm in Western Canada." As Gray tells the CBC's David Lennick in this radio clip, that drought-filled summer was truly unforgettable. While travelling across the rural prairies as a young reporter, Gray had several eye-opening experiences -- including a "cloudburst of grasshoppers" splashing onto his car windshield, and a farm child's horrified reaction when Gray inadvertently wasted some of the family's valuable water.

Medium: Radio
Program: Don Harron's Morningside
Broadcast Date: July 1, 1982
Guest: James Gray
Host: David Lennick
Duration: 13:49

Did You know?

• The 1930s were called the "dustbowl" years or the "Dirty '30s" because the soil became so dry it turned to dust. When the wind hit, the dust would blow. Blinding dust storms became characteristic of the Prairies in the '30s.
• In later droughts, the dust was never quite as bad as it was in the 1930s because soil-tilling practices had changed. Farmers in the '30s broke up the soil much more than farmers in later years. This made soil more vulnerable to erosion and windstorms.

• Grasshoppers weren't just a Depression-era problem -- there have been major grasshopper infestations during most of the severe droughts in Prairie history. This is because grasshoppers thrive in hot, dry weather. Drought conditions also curb the population of birds and rodents that eat grasshoppers, and reduce some of the bacteria that tend to keep grasshopper populations in check. Besides being a general annoyance, swarms of grasshoppers greatly add to farmer difficulties during a drought because they quickly eat whatever crops might have sprouted up.

• In James Gray's 1966 book The Winter Years: Depression on the Prairies, he vividly describes one of the worst "grasshopper blizzards" in 1938: "The grasshoppers covered everything -- the walls of buildings, sidewalks, streets, telephone lines. Then it rained and the downpour washed grasshoppers into storm sewers in such numbers that the intakes were clogged and the streets were flooded. Anybody who lived in Regina that summer and could not get over being squeamish about walking on wall-to-wall grasshoppers stayed indoors."


Devastating Dry Spells: Drought on the Prairies more