Making Do …

16 Nov

In the tough Depression years, a newly hired 16-year-old working at Dare’s Kitchener factory was paid 17 cents an hour. Ontario’s minimum wage for adults was 22 cents an hour!

Photo of a food line in Toronto during the Great Depression

Food line at the Yonge Street Mission, 381 Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada, during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The worldwide Great Depression that started in the United States in late 1929 quickly reached Canada, and was hit hard. Between 1929 and 1939, the gross national product dropped 40% (compared to 37% in the US). Unemployment reached 27% at the depth of the Depression in 1933. Many businesses closed, as corporate profits of $398 million in 1929 turned into losses of $98 million as prices fell. Farmers in the Prairies were especially hard hit by the collapse of wheat prices.  The Depression ended in 1939 as World War II began.

Denyse Baillargeon, historian and author, uses oral histories from 30 women to discover how housewives in the depression handled shortages of money and resources. Often they updated strategies their mothers used when they were growing up in poor families. Cheap foods were used, such as soups, beans and noodles. They purchased the cheapest cuts of meat—sometimes even horse meat—and recycled the Sunday roast into sandwiches and soups. They sewed and patched clothing, traded with their neighbors for outgrown items, and kept the house colder. New furniture and appliances were postponed until better days. These strategies, Baillargeon finds, show that women’s domestic labor—cooking, cleaning, budgeting, shopping, childcare—was essential to the economic maintenance of the family and offered room for economies. Most of her informants also worked outside the home, or took boarders, did laundry for trade or cash, and did sewing for neighbors in exchange for something they could offer. Extended families used mutual aid—extra food, spare rooms, repair-work, cash loans—to help cousins and in-laws.  Half of the Catholic women defied Church teachings and used contraception to postpone births—the number of births nationwide fell from 250,000 in 1930 to about 228,000 and did not recover until 1940.

If you would like to read Baillargeon’s book, click here, Making Do: Women, Family and Home in Montreal during the Great Depression.


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23 responses to “Making Do …

  1. DMartens-CWA

    November 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    They could afford a Sunday roast?

  2. spaniard13

    November 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

    This scenario can play out again, If “Gaia,” has one bad day, we can certainly all go back to the ice age, see Google the Little Ice Age from 1430-1800s’. As social programs etc and CDN Charter of Right’s etc., can all be Null and Void, see Chapter II. Just my thoughts.

  3. tindavid

    November 17, 2014 at 10:40 am

  4. onepageeveryday.

    November 17, 2014 at 6:00 am

    That picture is so haunting. Let’s hope we never experience another one of these.

  5. hairballexpress

    November 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    These things have been the normal way of life fur many in the U.S.- even now. So glad the humans take care of us and PURRvide free food and rent fur us !!KATS!

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      That’s because, my dear friend, even though we live through tough times, we take care of all that help us smile or feel supported and not judge US! Every Kat we are lucky enough to know deserve being treated like royalty! 🙂

      • hairballexpress

        November 17, 2014 at 12:39 am

        Have I ever mentioned how much I love you, human? *((purrs)).*

        • tkmorin

          November 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

          Yes, and ditto! 🙂

  6. David Stewart

    November 16, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    It’s hard to imagine going through something like that for so long. You wonder how it would have ended if the war hadn’t come along. They would have recovered eventually, but who knows how long it would have taken.

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      And even how many of today’s known inventions would have happened? Boggles my kind!

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Boggles my mind, I meant to say! 🙂

  7. First Night Design

    November 16, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Reblogged this on First Night History.

  8. noirfifre

    November 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    People always find a way to survive. Determination, it is an amazing trait.

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      We humans have great capacity to survive, that’s for sure! 🙂

  9. seeker

    November 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    It’s amazing what depression and war can do. It appears people became so resourceful. It reminded me of the time growing up poor in the Philippines and it was not even depression or ward. It would be interesting if this happens now, will Canada be just as resourceful? Thank you, TK. Very educational as ever. xox P

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks P! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m just glad I wasn’t around for it. Know what I mean?

  10. purrfectkitties

    November 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    This must have been really tough! Boy are we glad we have humans to care for us… 😉 Have a wonderful Sunday, sweetie! 😀 xx Roxy & Tigerlino ❤

    • tkmorin

      November 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend as well! 🙂

  11. Mick Orton

    November 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Yes, back in the day when people had to actually work and produce something to get welfare. My, how things have changed!


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