Tuesday, July 28, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 30 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“Throwing a Food Bank
out on the street is
an embarrassment.”
- Councillor Gary Taje  
- on a council decision about 
a Food Bank request 

 

 
The Great Depression, also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a decade that many Canadians would like to forget. It was an unprecedented event that ground the world economies to a halt and left one in five Canadians dependant on government relief.
It brought 30% unemployment, crop failures, a four year drought, foreclosures, bankruptcies, food handouts and relief camps. When young Canadian boys reached the age of 16 their families welfare was cut so they left home to reduce the burden. Thousands rode freight trains west looking for non-existent work. Work camps were set up for these wandering masses where these lost young men lived on war surplus clothes, bunked in tar paper shacks, ate army rations and were forced to work 6 days a week for 20 cents a day in work camps.  More like slave camps.
For coal miners the Great Depression began not in 1929 but as early as 1922 as the coal industry began its après World War 1 collapse. The miners bore the brunt of this coal crisis enduring wage cuts, union busting and locked out employees who refused to work for non-union rates. In the Pass things turned ugly as the coal companies worked to crush their all important union and force them to work for less and less in times when everyone was in dire straits.
Municipal relief back then was $4.24 per month per family for a diet of flour, rice, porridge, beans, sugar, lard and prunes. This was to be supplemented by hunting and fishing but in our mountain Serengeti these resources were soon depleted.
By 1932 the uneasiness of the Pass coal miners facing more wage cuts, job discrimination and blacklisting boiled over into the now infamous strike of 1932. It went down in history as one of the bitterest struggles by Canadians during the depression years.
The old scare tactics used by the coal companies of a communist threat in the Pass did not have its desired effect in the end.
In fact, as we all know, the town of Blairmore elected an all workers town council in 1933, a unique phenomenon in Canadian history.
 
That council uncovered graft, collected unpaid bills, got better relief for the unemployed, instituted municipal garbage collection, cut utility bills and opened vacant lots to citizens so that they might plant vegetable gardens.
And so it went. The summer of 1936, amidst the misery of droughts and dust storms, this country experienced its deadliest heat wave in its history. Manitoba and Ontario endured temperatures as high as 44 centigrade for over two weeks. It left 1,180 Canadians, mostly the elderly and children, dead. The heat was so intense that steel rails and bridge girders twisted, sidewalks buckled, crops wilted and fruit literally baked on trees.
One wonders how the people of the Crowsnest Pass and Canadians in general  kept going through these ten terrible years but they did it. And they did it with determination and charity.
Amazingly, during those ten hard years dozens of new songs came out each year that uplifted and cheered all those weary souls desperate for some joy. Songs like “Sitting on Top of the World, Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, Don’t Fence Me In, Pennies From Heaven, 42nd Street and of course the prophetic Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”
This August 2nd at 11:00 am the Bellevue Mine will be holding its Sixth Annual Miners’ Memorial at their mine site. This year the memorial looks back at the Great Depression with a series of speakers and music from this long gone but not forgotten era. Speakers like Dr. Laurel Halladay, Anthony Strickland, Bill White and Frank Toth will share their thoughts and memories about this remarkable time in our history. And of course there will be songs of this era courtesy of Gus Kollee and Rene Desjardins.
So come on out and join the gang for an introspective look back, sing a few songs and grab a bite to eat as the mine joins in with the rest of the Pass to celebrate the Annual Doors Open Festival.
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John Kinnear Archives

 
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   Volume 79 - Issue 30 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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