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A Speech By Henry

Text of Speech About the Relief Commission Given by Henry Black To A Convention In Eastern Canada - 1934

“Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen I first wish to thank you Mr. Resident for this privilege of expressing to this convention, on behalf of those unfortunate drought stricken residents of Saskatchewan, their sincere appreciation for the wonderful donations. The Province of Saskatchewan is peculiar to all other Provinces in the Dominion, three-fourths of the total population being wholly dependent on agriculture, and, when crops fail, everything is at a stand still. The citizens as a whole join with me in expressing our sincere appreciation.

Now I would like to draw a picture for you of the area that was affected I 1931. 200 miles east and west, 200 miles north and south, with Regina almost in the middle, comprising 240 rural municipalities in which 59,859 families or 327,879 persons applied for assistance. This does not include cities, towns and villages in this area.

The Government appointed a Relief Commission to administer assistance to the unfortunate residents. We appointed a Relief Officer along with a local voluntary committee of four, for each municipality which was approximately 18 miles square. The Relief Officer was equipped with a four page questionnaire covering the applicant’s position and requests, which had to be vouched for himself and approved by the local committee then forwarded to the Commission in Regina. This information enabled us to complete details of the requirements of the entire drought area, and with this information we were able to route donated cars where the needs were most pressing.

Now I want to give you the amount of donations that Saskatchewan received, apart from those sent by relatives and friends, in different parts. The clothing was freight free in bales. We were unable to give you the quantities from each province, but I feel that it came in the same ratio as the car loads. I will now give you the number of box car loads donated by each province.

PEI NS NB Que On Man Sk Ab BC total 31/32 16 1 2 14 126 13 48 12 17 249 32/33 0 1 - - 3 0 99 0 11 114 33/34 11 6 5 0 82 0 182 2 52 340 total 27 8 7 14 211 13 329 14 80 703

Clothing: 31/32 227 tons 32/33 13 tons 33/34 100 tons total 340 tons or 13 1/2 box car loads

And of those splendid donations, the Church organizations of the Dominion are the ones to whom the greatest credit is due as their donations exceed 80 per cent of the total.

I have had people ask me, do you think the people of Saskatchewan appreciate what has been done for them? In answer, I would say that in any country we have those who are relief recipients under all conditions, and feel that it is our duty to look after them at all times. Saskatchewan residents in the greatest numbers originally came from Ontario and the Eastern Provinces, and you will agree with me that those who went west were more adventurous than those who were satisfied to stay in the east, where opportunities were not so promising. I claim to be a westerner and am prepared to admit, those who were farmers in the east and pulled up stakes and went west where land was free to the homesteader, were not in every instance, Ontario’s most successful and economical farmers.

I have had farmers say to me that it was $2.00 wheat that was as much as anything responsible for the position they find themselves in at present because they have raised their living standards to that level. I cite one instance clear in my mind where I was partially responsible for selling a half section, 320 acres at $100.00 per acre, amounting to $32,000 without a building of any kind on the land. The following year the purchaser reaped an average crop of 60 bushels per acre, selling it at $2.00 per bushel, which paid for the land, the seed and all expenses in the first year’s crop.

I wish to cite a case of some farmers in their determination to win. Driving on the highway in June of 1931, I saw what I thought was one of those common dust whirlwinds in the distance. But as I drew closer I discovered in this dust cloud a farmer with a seeder and 8 horses seeding one of our best farms on the plains. I stopped and had a talk with him. He said he had been here for over 30 years and he had never experienced anything like this. This was the third time that he was seeding the large field, and it also blew out. You can readily understand how quickly a successful farmer’s finances would vanish under those conditions with his large equipment. Three times the price of seed for the land, and then receive nothing for his toil. This was a common occurrence in Saskatchewan in 1931.

I again come back to the donations and I will say again that they were very much appreciated. I was to a great extent responsible for the list of clothing that the Government would permit, and for the men and boys it was overalls, boots, socks, mitts, underwear and a mackinaw coat, while for the women it was practically yard goods. “How could we make a list of clothing that would suit the women?” I was in the warehouse in Regina when the bales of donated clothing were pouring in and an army of willing workers were assembling parcels of clothing for small hamlets, and there I saw what I believe to be the greatest collection of women’s coats ever exhibited in any of our largest stores, and all other wearing apparel of girls and boys in like quantities, therefore it was not overlapping on the Government clothing allotments. The maximum amount allowed by the Relief Commission being $50.00, an adult man $9.00 and others in similar proportion. With this conservative allotment over the past three years clothing has cost the Government slightly over two million dollars.

We had a two day conference with representatives of the B.C. Fruit Growers, in an endeavour to try and arrange a Government distribution of apples. We secured a very attractive price from the growers, but the railways could not justify free freight. Considering the fact that there were over 300,000 people as relief recipients who would request a pro rata distribution, and allowing 80 pounds a fair quantity per person, this would mean approximately 500 box car loads of apples. And, as many of the rural residents would have to drive, in some instances 18 miles, to take delivery on the day that the car was to have arrived, after serious consideration we decided that the cost did not warrant the Government undertaking. In the cars donated, there were great quantities of fruit and in many of the cars, quantities of canned fruit, along with other valuable donations. This is another case where those splendid donations filled an almost necessity and again with no overlapping.

Apart from the carload lots of clothing and foodstuffs we received other donations that required considerable thought to make proper distribution. We received several hundred dollars, and I am satisfied that its proper allocation was as carefully made as any of the voluntary contributions. We set up a fund where, on receipt of recommendations from Municipal Committees, some consideration could be made for charity work for looking after the sick, but at no time was a larger amount forwarded than about one half the normal fee. I would like to cite a case where a person was one relief and had allowed a case of erysipelas to go into advanced stages before calling for medical attention. The doctor arrived and found the patient delirious. The local hospital had no funds to provide the necessary attention to care for the patient, who had to be strapped to the bed. Two nurses, knowing that funds were not available, voluntarily provided the necessary care, but also contracted the disease and a portion of the funds was used to compensate and care for the girls.

Frys Chocolate Company donated 1680 one-pound tins of cocoa. It was finally decided to distribute it to the hospitals in operation in the stricken areas pro rata in accordance with the bed accommodation.

We also had a very thoughtful donation from the east consisting of several hundred pounds of flower seeds. In communicating with the Ministerial Association, and other religious bodies, they kindly consented to send the seeds to local parishes to distribute to families on relief in their local districts, we paying the postage.

You may be interested in the government’s relief program for the winter of 1931 and 1932. Relief expenditures totaled $18,775,901. Of this amount approximately 72 per cent was expended in direct farming operations and here I would like to present to you some of the problems that confronted the Commission.

About one week after the Commission was appointed I had a phone call asking me if I would allow a delegation of the grain men to interview me. Here is their proposition: you (the Relief Commission) will require every bushel of grain in store in every elevator in the southern half of Saskatchewan. It is to your interest to secure this grain as we propose to empty our elevators so as to be in readiness for next year’s crop. This was an important matter and required immediate action, as grain quotations are based on Ft. William delivery and the freight rate over this area varied from 13 to 25 cents a bushel. Therefore we agreed to purchase on the basis of that day’s price, Ft. William, less one cent and this meant the purchase of over four million bushels, and the saving of the price of the freight rate between Saskatchewan points and Ft. William. About two days afterwards I had interviews from farmers saying ‘you have left us without any place to secure seed grain as you have purchased every bushel in the southern half of the province. This put us into the grain marketing business, as it would have been unfair to have left these farmers under the handicap of shipping in their grain in small quantities, so we agreed to sell to the farmers who were in a position to buy at a basis of our charge to those requiring Government aid, which was satisfactory.

In our 1931/32 program we spent $2,805,948 on food and this large amount represents less than 2 cents per meal for each person on food relief. But this figure did not include fuel for cooking. For fuel, which was principally coal we expended $1,538.987. We spent nearly a million dollars on clothing. For feed and fodder, comprising 113,000 tons of fodder and 6900 carloads of feed grain, we spent $6,225,254. In many localities it was more economical to ship young stock to where feed was available than to ship feed to the stock. Here we shipped 17,940 animals for winter feeding. We supplied seed grain to 44,793 farmers which included 4,806,023 bushels of wheat, 3,425,659 bushels of oats at a cost of $4,895,274. As their are a great number of farmers who now operate exclusively with tractors, and of which I am not as sympathetic toward as the horse power farmer, we spent in tractor fuel, greases, repairs etc. A sum of $1,032,827. We also spent $119,483 moving settlers and their effects to new homes in the northern part of the province.

The information I have given you is for the winter and spring of the 1931 and 1932 program. The relief for 1932 and 1933 was distributed in accordance with the requirements on the same schedule as 31/32 at a cost of $3,380,732.

The cost of the 1933/34 program, which is now almost completed, from the figures available at the time of my departure was $6,792,540.

In the fall of 1931 I was besieged with correspondence criticizing our allotment and others that we were giving assistance where it was not warranted, so I decided to insert an ad in the weekly country papers appealing to their patriotism, asking then to advise me of anyone whom they suspected of taking advantage of relief distribution or any who were suffering want. From this ad I consider I received about one dozen replies and I will cite one letter I received from a woman who said that a neighbour of hers was keeping a dog and I should advise them to do away with the dog. The balance of the letters were of similar importance.

I am convinced that the cost of administration being 3.18 per cent, will be very difficult to ever again closely approximate. Due to the economic depression and the drought throughout the province, collections agents, salesmen and executives who had earned $200.00, $300.00 and up to $500.00 per month were walking the streets. As a result, competent and efficient men and women accepted very low paying positions. This is in some measure responsible for the favourable administration cost. This cost for the past two years is somewhat lower, as with the information on file, received in our first year the assistance of the Municipal Councils, we did not require the services of relief officers after the first year with the exception of a few field supervisors.

When we had determined the articles that were to be distributed to relief recipients, prices were secured from several merchants from various parts of the stricken area, as existing before the formation of the Relief Commission. Considering the average prices quoted by these merchants, as against the cost of the same articles to the Commission, a saving of more than one million dollars accrued on direct relief during the first year of operations.

Here I might state that I have received in repayment on the quantities distributed an amount of over two and a half million dollars, which was to a great extent repayments on seed and seeding operation accounts. And apart from this amount, direct relief repayments in the performance of road and other work exceed one million dollars.

In the spring of 1933 we were very hopeful that the assistance to the farmer was almost at an end and this happy condition continued almost to the end of July, when the grasshopper menace became very serious, as they started their migration from the US. This I did not experience myself, but I am told that they came in such vast hordes that they actually darkened the sun. Their actions were that they would alight and destroy everything, the grain crop, the vegetable gardens, even the potato tops. Here I heard a story that I will not vouch for, where a woman had no screen on her window and due to the stifling heat left it open all night, and found in the morning that they had eaten her curtains. They would rise and skip a couple of miles and again land and clean up everything. I personally made a visit over this area in October, driving my car a distance of over 1,200 miles and there I saw farmers cutting their fields with a mower, a light second growth of green grain, just in the head, and the dry spears of the original crop that had been eaten by the grasshoppers.

I might here state that after going through the past three years of such serious difficulties, provisions are being made for combating these difficulties. For the soil drifting they are endeavoring to cultivate in what is known as strip farming, that is, 5 rod strips and then leave stubble, this will tend to prevent larger areas from drifting. Preparations are now underway to offset the grasshopper menace.

I might here also bring to your attention that the mortality rate per capita in Saskatchewan is the lowest on record - in 1931 it was 6.6, in 1932 and 1933 it was 6.5. And I know of no other place that has such a low rate, I confirmed this before leaving by phoning the Statistics Branch of the province and there they had the mortality rates from the League of Nations and there was no country in the world that had as favorable a record as that of the Province of Saskatchewan.

Western residents are recognized as living on hope and the future, more than in any other part of Canada, and I am prepared to admit that the conditions as I left the Prairies were more promising, in a large area of the province, than they have been for many years past. We had much more winter moisture and we have had an early growth this spring, which is two weeks earlier than the average growth, and just recently we had several refreshing showers.

With the experience that we have gone through and the lessons it has taught us, we all hope that we will never again see a recurrence of what we have passed through.

Now Ladies and Gentlemen, I have endeavored to convey to you our appreciation of your generosity, by the generous gifts, and also the Dominion Government’s assistance. At this time I would like to give you some figures of Saskatchewan’s contribution to the production of wealth of our Dominion from 1916 to 1929. During these fourteen years, Saskatchewan produced $6,867,709,660. The average over a period from 1919 to 1929 the agricultural revenue of Canada was $18,542,241,000 of which Saskatchewan produced $3,810,126,000 or over 20 per cent of the agricultural wealth of Canada and our population represents less than 10 per cent of the country’s population. In 1926 the Canadian cereal crop totaled 546,672,000 bushels and of this amount Saskatchewan contributed $321,215,000 which is almost 60 per cent of the total.

As there is a large percentage of our population who are not British born and has there has been a sentiment in our province that Saskatchewan was just one of the large fields for the sale of Eastern manufactured goods at a price which had a tendency to cause them to believe that Saskatchewan was merely an outlet for their products to build wealth in the Eastern Provinces. I trust that this great and generous response of the eastern provinces in the way of their contributions will tend to eliminate this feeling and to assist in the building up of a more United Canada.”

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