Jan­uary 1932

So­cial Ser­vices Bu­reau sets up col­lec­tion de­pot

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - OPINION - Con­tact: joan­champ@shaw.ca Joan Champ

Prince Al­bert was not im­mune from the worst ef­fects of eco­nomic stag­na­tion that af­flicted North Amer­ica during the Great De­pres­sion of the 1930s. The most se­ri­ous prob­lem the city ex­pe­ri­enced was wide­spread un­em­ploy­ment, and the re­sult­ing need to pro­vide re­lief to im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies.

In May of 1932, the Prince Al­bert Daily Her­ald re­ported that there were 281 un­em­ployed per­sons in the city with 984 de­pen­dents, mak­ing a to­tal 1,265 – 13 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion – re­ceiv­ing re­lief as­sis­tance from the city. In or­di­nary years, the cost of re­lief as­sis­tance to the city was less than $500 per month. By 1932, this cost had soared to about $10,000 per month.

The num­bers only tell part of the story, how­ever. It is dif­fi­cult to find first-per­son sto­ries about the suf­fer­ing en­dured by so many during the de­pres­sion. For one thing, it was con­sid­ered a shame­ful thing to have to go on re­lief, so records were kept pri­vate. “The mere ap­pli­ca­tion for re­lief had been an in­dig­nity to many fam­i­lies,” Gary Abrams ex­plains in his 1966 book on the his­tory of Prince Al­bert, “and their more for­tu­nate neigh­bours had con­tin­ued to stig­ma­tize them as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens.”

One way to get a pic­ture of what Prince Al­bert was like during the de­pres­sion years is to read pages of the Daily Her­ald from the 1930s. For ex­am­ple, in Jan­uary of 1932, the Prince Al­bert So­cial Ser­vices Bu­reau, a pri­vate char­ity, had set up a cloth­ing col­lec­tion de­pot in the post of­fice build­ing on Cen­tral Av­enue. Ev­ery week, the Bu­reau pub­lished an ap­peal in the pa­per for items needed by fam­i­lies on re­lief. Here are just a few ex­am­ples from the char­ity’s first months of op­er­a­tion:

Fe­bru­ary 1: “One fam­ily, a wid­ower with three chil­dren, is badly in need of out­fit­ting. The fa­ther is em­ployed on city re­lief work – three days’ work in ev­ery nine. The three young­sters … are sleep­ing with lit­tle other than over­coats and the like. The Bu­reau is par­tic­u­larly in need of bed cloth­ing and warm footwear.”

Fe­bru­ary 8: “On Satur­day af­ter­noon a boy en­tered the cloth­ing de­pot and it re­quired no sec­ond glance to know he needed an over­coat. A search through the stock re­vealed there was noth­ing to fit him. It looked as if he would have to go out into the cold again with­out suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion from bit­ing winds un­til one of the work­ers dis­cov­ered a coat of sorts. The lad went away happy and thank­ful. The bu­reau is very much in need of boys’ cloth­ing, any­thing at all that boys wear, such as over­coats, mitts, caps, sweaters and un­der­wear.”

April 15: “Wed­nes­day a man called at the So­cial Ser­vice Bu­reau cloth­ing de­pot and re­quested a pair of shoes for his wife who was un­able to come her­self to be fit­ted be­cause she had none of any de­scrip­tion. Of­fi­cials sent a num­ber of pairs for the woman to try. This is only one of the many ex­am­ples of the acute need of footwear among un­for­tu­nate fam­i­lies in the city.”

May 4: “A num­ber of sin­gle men liv­ing at the im­mi­gra­tion hall have prac­ti­cally no footwear, and with­out it they can­not to out to work when avail­able. Do­na­tions of men’s shoes are needed.”

Be­tween Jan­uary and June of 1932, the Prince Al­bert So­cial Ser­vice Bu­reau had dis­trib­uted used cloth­ing and footwear to 200 in­fants, 579 school-age chil­dren and 739 adults. Food, fuel, and bed­ding were sup­plied to 78 fam­i­lies. Lo­cal school chil­dren were sup­plied with a to­tal of 10,500 quarts of milk, 69 text­books, and 72 scrib­blers. Six city den­tists gave free den­tal treat­ment to 122 school chil­dren. The Bu­reau even helped non-res­i­dents. “Seventy-four tran­sients were as­sisted with cloth­ing, footwear, etc., in or­der that they could ac­cept farm work out­side of the city,” the Her­ald re­ported, “thus en­abling them to avoid be­com­ing a charge of the city.” A to­tal of 2,382 cases were han­dled through the Bu­reau in six months. Thanks to vol­un­teers, there had been no cost for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of this re­lief.

Other re­lief mea­sures in Prince Al­bert during the 1930s in­cluded pub­lic works projects for un­em­ployed men – projects like the con­struc­tion of a rock dam on the river near the air­port to raise the wa­ter level for sea­planes. Over the nine years of the de­pres­sion, the City, with some help from the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments, spent $357,000 on un­em­ploy­ment re­lief. This in­cluded direct ben­e­fits to fam­i­lies to help them stave off des­ti­tu­tion – money for gro­ceries and free med­i­cal and den­tal care.

In 1938, as clouds of the de­pres­sion be­gan to lift, the city ad­min­is­tra­tion con­ducted a sur­vey of hous­ing con­di­tions in Prince Al­bert. The find­ings help to il­lus­trate the ef­fects of a decade of poverty on city familes. Forty-eight per­cent of the city’s homes lacked mod­ern plumb­ing – out­houses were still be­ing used. The sur­vey also found that nearly one-eighth of the houses were classed as un­san­i­tary. “The cost in human mis­ery had been in­cal­cu­la­ble,” Abrams writes, “and the ef­fects of the de­pres­sion upon the health of the peo­ple of Prince Al­bert were to be felt far into the fu­ture.”

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