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The Saskatchewan Relief Commission

Faced with a dought and a depression - Saskatchewan's economy was sent reeling. Henry Black was called upon by Conservative Premier J.T.M. Anderson to head a relief commission. Prof. Bill Brennan at the University of Regina mentions two things about the relief commission. First that it was completely independent and removed from the political machinery of the day and second that it sought to standardize relief efforts throughout the province - in the past people received different treatment in different locations. Civic relief efforts continued in parallel with the provincial effort.

Thursday August 13, 1931 Regina Leader Post.
“Government Announces Relief Plans” “Single Unemployed men to get help." Dept of Highways has initiated relief roadwork throughout the province and offered married men 3 days of work and single men 1 day of work. The work was to be given to residents of municipalities who would otherwise be a burden. No cash was paid, instead, labourers received purchase orders for the necessities of life. The wage for a labourer was 25 cents an hour.

“Black, Yule, Whitmore, Johnson, Munn Named On New Relief Board” Premier J.T.M. Anderson announced final appointments for the Commission which will supervise the distribution of relief to the province without salaries” Henry Black, former Mayor of Regina and old-time resident of the city was named to head the voluntary relief board of five members to take charge of the administration of relief in the province. “

Cost of Living in 1932
Milk - 10 cents a quart women’s shoes - $3.00 a pair 1 pound of coffee - 49 cents Men’s sweater - $2.49 a dozen eggs - 19 cents a ound of celery - 10 cents 4 pounds of carrots - 10 cents an evening at the movies (Monkey Business Starring the Marx Brothers at the Grand) - 25 cents admission

January 4, 1932 -
Regina’s civic relief camp opened - the first night it served 100 meals. A cigarette ad for Buckingham Cigaretes featured Toronto Maple Leaf star Charlie Conacher “Charlie Conacher pays this voluntary tribute to Buckingham “Good old Buckingham. There’s 20 smiles in every package” 20 cigarettes cost 25 cents - about an hour's wages.

February 19, 1932.
“Holds Relief Body Political. North Battleford Liberal Attacks Sask. Commission.” From the Wildly Liberal Leader Post: Ottawa. C.R. McIntosh (Lib. North Battleford) Thursday charged that the Saskatchewan Relief Commission was “political from A to Z” and that there was no Liberal representation on it. Mr. McIntosh later admitted that there was one Liberal on the commission but that Liberal did not represent the Liberals of Saskatchewan, but the banks. I believe that the Commission, to a large extent, is trying to do its best, but when you consider that every relief agent appointed by that commission was appointed by an out and out Conservative, you can have an idea immediately how the outside work is orchestrated.”

1934 August 1, 1934
Hindenburg Dies. Hitler Assumes All Power In Germany.  Wheat is 90 cents a bushel. Provincial Government Staff Feel Changes Immediately Following Liberal Election Victory

August 15, 1934
“Saskatchewan Relief Commission Abolished” Departments of Government Take Over Duties - 160 Commission Employees Affected. “Such a move is being undertaken by the government as an economy measure to meet the serious reductions occasioned by the unsympathetic attitude of the federal (conservative) government in agreeing only to the payment of $200,000 per month for Saskatchewan’s direct relief needs. All the staff of the Commission at the Normal School will be let go with the exception of a skeleton staff to take care of the Commission records.

Click HERE to Read A Speech By Henry About the Saskatchewan Relief Commission

Notes From the final report of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission
“The Commission, although not a large bulk purchaser, takes the place of the individual in the purchase of his or her actual needs. This resulted in the savings of a very large amount of money to the tax payers of the province and the Dominion, which in the end will amount to in excess of $2,000,000.”

There were two basic problems. 93 Rural Municipalities in the south had experienced three years of crop failure, 69 RMs had experienced two years of total crop loss 90 northern RMs received thousands of immigrants from the south who were fleeing the drought - these people arrived with no means of support.

So, in addition to the depression, Saskatchewan (where wheat was king) also experienced the effects of a drought.

During the second year of the Commission’s existence, actual distribution of the relief supplies was done by the RMs. In all cases, the goods were purchased from the local merchant so that “the local merchant could be kept off the bread line.” The prime area of operation for the Commission was roughly inside a triangle formed if lines were drawn from Saskatoon to the south eastern and south western corners of the province. There are statistics galore which illustrate the scale of the national emergency:

Annual Value Of Saskatchewan Crops
Crop 1928 1931
Wheat $90m $3m
Oats $20m $775,000
Barley $4m $258,000
Rye $1m $27,000
Potatoes $1m $286,000

Saskatchewan had also been self sufficient for animal feed - in 1931 it had to be imported from Alberta and Manitoba.

The Relief Commission distributed two kinds of relief:

In 1931-32, approximately one out of every three Saskatchewan residents received some form of relief.

Amount spent by Relief Commission 1931-32 $19m 1932-33 $3.2m 1933 - June 1934 $9.3m

In each and every case, an undertaking to repay from each individual was taken. “In deciding to adopt this policy, the Commission was influenced by the fact that the vast majority of those in need of relief were not bankrupt insofar as their assets and liabilities were concerned, or paupers or indigents in the ordinary sense.” As well, there was no market for farm property or assets. The Commission thought of itself as supplying short term credit - it ws thought that this would allow the individuals to retain their self respect.

The national rail carriers gave very good freight rates for the relief materials and provided free transport for the vast quantities of fruits and vegetables that came into the province from the rest of Canada.

Over the two and a half years of the Commission’s existence, it provided approximately $6million in direct food relief, $3.3m in fuel, $2m worth of clothing and $25,000 worth of shelter, $7m worth of seed, $8m worth of gopher poison, grasshopper poison, harness and garden seeds. 28,000 packages of garden seeds were distributed to Saskatchewn farmers. $3m worth of feed and fodder had to be bought from Alberta and Manitoba.

More than 35,000 head of stock were moved from the south to the north along with 1600 families and all their belongings.

As well, $50,000 worth of coal was purchased for various school divisions.

100 villages from throughout the province lost their tax base completely. As a result, the Commission started to look after the needs of the single, homeless unemployed men of Saskatchewan. It operated camps and dining halls in Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon and used these as bases to place these souls in jobs on farms in Sask. In the winter of 1933-34, the federal governement was called upon to assume responsibility for this part of society. During 1932-33 9,627 single homeless unemployed men were taken care of in the camps.

Saskatchewan received 277 box cars of donated food, clothing etc. from all over the country. 135 of these were organized by the United Church.

In 1933 grasshoppers hit the south east hard and the Relief Commission supplied $500,000 worth of grasshopper poison and organized 1200 individual grasshopper control committees throughout the province.

There were two repayment options, depending on the type of relief obtained. A straight promissory note was signed, or a lien was attached on a crop. No attempt was made to enforce collection of these notes. Up to May 31, 1934 $40,542 of direct relief notes had been repaid and more than $2.5 million had been repaid on the seeding advances. The Relief Commission also accepted wheat as repayment at 70 cents a bushel - above its current trading price.

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