The Great Depression
By Pierre Berton
McClelland & Stewart
He [King] tossed in his bed, unable to
sleep. He called for his little dog
Pat to comfort him … It was now 4:30
a.m. The Prime Minister of Canada had
spent more than eight hours trying to
write a one-paragraph message of
congratulation … And thus, having made
obeisance to his new sovereign without
appearing to grovel, the Prime
Minister of his majesty’s loyal but
autonomous dominion toddled off to bed
and tried his best to get some sleep.
Devastating. There’s a reason this book is over 500 pages long.With his story ode in fine tune, Berton does do a good job of demonstrating how widespread the fear and discrimination were in this decade. These were the years when immigrants, people of colour and above all anyone who showed even the slightest leftist leanings were blacklisted or arrested so they would never be able to find work, and then were made ineligible for the dole. These were the years when freedom of speech was only accorded to rich WASPs, when police were told to break up peaceful protests with guns and tear gas and to throw “communists” in jail without fair trials. This was the decade when the University of Alberta had a Woman Haters’ Club whose president became student council president in 1935. U of T’s History Club was closed to women students. Birth control was illegal, unions were a communist plot, the Padlock law was enacted in Quebec and Jews escaping Nazi Germany were refused entry into Canada. Berton also tries to show the courage (or alternatively the desperation of) the common farmers and working class Canadians who underwent tremendous hardships, poverty and starvation as drought and grasshoppers destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland and one fifth of Canada was unemployed. And he hasn’t forgotten anything. It’s easy to see where his sympathies lie with a line such as
The worst victims of hunger were the
million and a half cattle … A surplus
of at least three hundred thousand
would now have to be sold at
bankruptcy prices to meat-packing
This book is for people who love to watch the “historical” mini-series of the type Jane Seymour loves to star in; for people who read Victoria Holt, John James, Little Orphan Annie comic strips. The last paragraph seems to say it all.
It was over and done with—the Great
Depression that had brought so much
heartache and despair but had changed
the political face of the nation. It
had scarred an entire generation. Now
it was history.
The Depression of the thirties might be history. The Great Depression of the nineties most definitely isn’t.