Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ on Major Events


Ask Aunt Ruthie

Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ Index

This page contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and answers regarding major events in the 1930s time period. The questions are organized by sub-category as best as possible.

Question Index

The Great Depression

World War 2

The Dust Bowl

The New Deal

The Hindenburg Disaster


Other Events

Questions and Answers

The Great Depression

Q: I would like to know about your memories of the great depression.

A: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 was followed by very hard financial times. The result of the Crash was chaotic and thousands of people became unemployed. The Crash occurred overnight (so it seemed) and many committed suicide out of despair.

Jobless sign

The City of Toronto helped out the poor with food and clothing and as I was one of six children I remember those days very well.

Work for my dad was very sparse during the 30's and sometimes non existent. People pulled together because we were all in the same boat. and as children, vacations were out of the question. But not knowing any different, we played in the streets - hide and go seek - baseball- hopscotch.

Jobless men

Compared to today food was very cheap but pennies were few and far between, so even though it was cheap, it was not always obtainable. The churches also helped out with food and toys, especially around Christmas. People tried to help each other wherever possible and eventually the years passed and the economy improved after the start of WW 2 in 1939.

More thoughts: The years that followed were pretty grim and thousands of people did not have jobs. My dad was one of them, and we had to get City Relief which helped with food. Boots and pants were supplied to my brothers every six months. Because so many were in the same boat, we kids did not really know the difference We played and invented a lot of our own fun. No TV, could not afford movies and mostly we listened to programs on the radio at night.

When the WW 2 broke out in 1939, it was the beginning or the monetary turnaround. War promotes work in munitions factories and other war related industries.

Employment agency

More thoughts: There was six kids in my family and my dad looked unsuccessfully for work for most of that decade.  City Relief was provided for the very poor which included clothing and food.  As kids, we did not fully realize the severity of the times and as there were no wealthy kids to compare to, it all seemed like a normal existence for us.

The parents however, bore the burden of physical and mental anguish over the deprivation of these years.  To add insult to injury, we had the Dustbowl which rendered the land infertile for raising food.

Q: Was there a quick fix for the depression?

A: There was no quick fix for this very monumental problem.  After the initial shock of the Crash in 1929 the unemployment was extremely high.  Men headed in any direction in the country to find work. and migrant workers were prevalent across the land.  Some money came in from the private sector to stimulate the economy but as I said there was no magic relief.  There was city relief for the poorer families, help from neighbors and of course the churches did their best to help in the communities.  The ups and downs in the 30's were tremendous and it was the outbreak of WW2 that sent the country in a spin, but economically it was the war that turned the economy around (ironic).

Because the solution came about due to war it was naturally a mixed blessing.  But people did pull together for the common purpose of aiding the war effort and many factories came into being. which of course provided work.  That was the beginning of women going out in the work field in numbers and with men going overseas to fight, there was a high number of women working in male oriented jobs.

Q: What was the homeless situation like for people?

A: Some took us residence in railway boxcars and were strictly hobos.  Others hitched rides on the railway and traversed across the country looking for work.  People went to wherever they thought they might get a job.  Many men were away from their families working and sending what they could back home to their wives and kids.  This was a desperated decade and for the most part people barely eked out a living. 

unloading phono

Q: What was the situation in other countries at this time?

A: First of all let me explain that we did not have the sophisticated media that we enjoy today and most news of what was going on in other countries came through a wire service.  Other countries were struggling very hard to survive the devastation  as a result of the Great Depression.

Adolph Hitler was instrumental in getting Germany back on it's feet monetarily.  Russia struggled with the concept of communism and the people in general were far from well off.  Asian countries, because of their high population, were often in need.  Generally speaking, there were no "fat cats" during this period  and unfortunately it took a world war to get the economy going again in order for the little guy to make a living .

World War 2

Q: How did people back home cope during the war?

A: Morally I think people pulled together for the common cause and had faith in God.  We had food rationing, certain clothes that could not be bought (silk stockings for instance)  They needed the silk to make parachutes.  The people on the home front supported the boys overseas in any way possible.  Selling war bonds - entertainers travelling overseas to brighten up the morale of the soldiers.

Q: What was Canada's foreign policy in WW2?

A: Canada was closely allied to England and when war was declared in 1939 our army reserves were the first to be sent overseas.  We totally rejected Hitler and all of his policies.  Premier King implemented the drafting of all elegible males and they were trained and shipped overseas. We were not into war as a nation but being part of the Commonwealth, the choice was made.  Immigrants were sort of put on hold and as a matter of fact boatloads of Jewish people headed for our shores and those of the U.S. but were turned away . I personally think this is why we have such an open policy today on immigration - we felt guilty for the rejection of the Jews.

I think our policy was one of peace and we were never an aggressive nation.  However,during the war years, the Japanese Chinese and other immigrants already in the country were closely watched by the Canadian government.

The Dust Bowl

Q: What was the Dust Bowl?

A: The Dustbowl of the 1930's was an ecological disaster that occurred in the South West Great Plains of the U.S.  The drought continued for such a long period that the land eroded and blew away.  There was absolutely no way for farmers to grow food and many migrated to other farmlands or into the cities to get work.

Dust Storm Beaver Okla

"The Grapes of Wrath" by Steinbeck is a great illustration of this particular time and the story of one family's struggle to survive. I believe you can get the video as well.

South Dakota 'Black Blizzard' 1934

Q: Can you talk about the drought in the Canadian Prairies?

A: There was a drought in the Prairies in Canada and the equivalent known as the Dustbowl in the U.S. You can imagine the devastation after the Crash in 29 - no jobs to be had in the 30's. people migrating west to perhaps help out on farms and eke out a living.  The drought arrived and dried up all the fertile land.  The dry land eroded and was literally blown away leaving nothing on which to grow food.

The New Deal

Q: Can you tell me about FDR and The New Deal?

A: When FDR became President in 1933 the country was experiencing High unemployment with a stagnant economy. There was a proposal (The Deal) to help people who were economically trapped with mortgages they could not pay, farmers close to losing their land etc.  The idea was to hold back foreclosure for a couple of years to give the owners a chance to catch up.  This also held back gouging by the people who were in the mortgage business.  FDR tried very hard to restore prosperity to the country by giving the little guy a chance. Several states created "little new deals" but it became a question of how constitutional this was.  Thus  the question went to the Supreme Court.

Some believe that what FDR did caused another depression in a depression.

The Hindenburg Disaster


Q: What were speakeasies?

A: After Prohibition evolved in the 20's, speakeasies were springing up all over in the U.S.  They were controlled by gangsters who supplied the illegal booze.  People would gravitate to these places for a night of drinking and heaven knows what else.  Some of these cabarets were a haven for homosexuals and lesbians.

Would you believe that some of these places even supplied chewing gum for their patrons to cover up the fact they had been drinking.  It kept the Prohibition Enforcement men very busy raiding these places and they would close one down only to find another one had opened.  These were truly dens of iniquity but they made a lot of money for the mobs that run them.

Other Events

Q: What other notable events occurred in the 1930s?

A: Some other events:

  • The King of England abdicated his throne and fell in love and married Wallace Simpson of the U.S.
  • In 1938 Orson Welles created a radio program called "War of the Worlds"  He created an alien invasion from outer space and presented this program so realistically that thousands of people believed this was really happening.  Total chaos and panic occurred and this event has really gone down in history.
  • There was a real uproar at Christie Pits in Toronto back in the 30's.  There was a large number of young men that wore Swastikas that beat up on a bunch of Jewish boys playing baseball.
  • 1936: Heat wave hits Toronto - man fries egg on sidewalk on Yonge Street.

Ask Aunt Ruthie

Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ Index

Last updated: May 5, 2005


© Terry Cumming, 2000-2005