“Sleeping or Jumping Sir?”

Image of Montreal soup kitchen , 1931
Montreal soup kitchen, 1931 (National Archive Canada)

On October 29, 1929, Canada experienced one of its most depressing day in history: the great market crash! Black Tuesday.

Prices suddenly crashed on the world’s stock markets, and Canada was plunged into ten years of poverty.  One year after the crash, a whopping 400,000 were unemployed, and many people who did have jobs were earning less than subsistence pay.  Thousands looking for work travelled through the country by hiding in freight cars.  Countless families, forced to live almost at starvation level for several years, were held together only by courage, character, and much self-sacrifice of parents and children.

Many families who could not find work went “on relief.”  Across the country this varied from place to place.  For instance, in Toronto, Ontario, a family of seven received food vouchers worth $7 a week; in Saskatchewan, a family of five was given $10 a month, along with a 98-pound sack of flour.  Scarce money was usually spent on potatoes and dried beans instead of fruits.

On the morning of October 29, people who were rich in terms of stocks and shares, suddenly found that they were broke and worthless by evening.

Conditions were so bad that hotel clerks would (jokingly) ask a man registering for a room, “Sleeping or jumping, sir?”

The economic conditions did not really begin to improve until 1937.  And that was mostly due to the war in 1939, when factories and farms went into full productions, providing employment at better wages.

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