The Saskatchewan Relief Commision 1931-34: A Study of the Administration of Rural Relief in Saskatchewan During the Early Years of the Depression
Matheson, Don Garfield
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This thesis is an examination of the administration of rural relief in Saskatchewan during the period when the Saskatchewan Relief Commission existed, 1931 to 1934. It is a study which first attempts to place the Saskatchewan Relief Commission within a historical and constitutional framework. The first chapters examine the first three decades of Canadian history, noting in particular Canada's prosperity and growth, both of which depended,in large measure, upon world markets for natural products and staple commodities. These chapters also attempt to delineate some of the more glaring constitutional anomalies, especially as these touched upon Federal-Provincial financial relations. The study notes that the Depression showed not only the vulnerability of the Canadian economy, but also the difficulties inherent within the Federal-Provincial relations. While the Federal Government watched helplessly as world markets closed to Canadian products and prices dropped, it continued to insist upon the provincial and municipal responsibility for the growing unemployment and relief problems. Soon these problems became so immense that the lower levels of government could not handle them, and it became necessary for the Federal Government to corne to their aid. Thus began the complicated and cumbersome fiscal transfers from Ottawa to the various provinces.Of all the Canadian provinces, Saskatchewan probably suffered the most during the Depression. The disastrous combination of economic depression and adverse growing conditions of the 1930's wrought their greatest havoc in this province, especially amongst the rural population. To meet the needs of the rural destitute, the Provincial Government established the Saskatchewan Relief Commission which orchestrated the immense task of providing direct relief (food, fuel, clothing and shelter), and agricultural relief (seed, feed and fodder, fuel and lubricants, etc.) to destitute farmers and their families. In addition, the Saskatchewan Relief Commission, for a time, assumed responsibility for the destitute residents of the villages and towns located in the driest parts of the province, and, for one year, was involved in the program to relieve the distress of single, homeless, unemployed persons. The main body of the thesis focuses on the operations of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission as it contended not only with unprecedented needs which obtained in rural Saskatchewan, but also with the awkward constitutional and financial relationships which existed between all three levels of government. After examining, in considerable detail, the activities of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission in its distribution of direct relief, in its guidance of a program of agricultural relief, in its attempts to meet the needs of those who moved to northern sections of the province in orderto escape the drought of the southern areas and in its implementation of a medical relief program, the study concludes that the Relief Commission's handling of these facets of rural relief was quite exemplary, given the immensity of the task and the limitations imposed upon the Relief Commission by the two senior levels of government. After an examination of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission's involvement in schemes to care for the province's single, homeless unemployed, the study concludes that the Relief Commission failed to provide adequate care and supervision for this class of indigent. As. the study notes, this aspect of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission's administration of relief was the unfortunate exception to its other activities. At this point some reference should be made to sources. On the issue just raised, the author is aware that the full story has not been told. If other sources were examined, e.g. material in the National Archives, perhaps they would qualify significantly this writer's conclusion about the Relief Commission's role in the plight of single, unemployed persons. Without douht, the most valuable source for this study has been the records of the Relief Commission itself, in particular, its own files (which are quite voluminous), as well as the minutes of the proceedings of the meetings of the Commissioners. The economical measures of the Depression seem to have dictated that even carbon paper and typewriter ribbon usedin Government departments and in the Relief Commission be replaced only when absolutely necessary. Hence, much of the material is very difficult to read. This, combined with a second-rate microfilming camera, made much of the research slow and arduous. Next in importance has been the Relief Records of those Government departments which had close and on-going relationships with the Saskatchewan Relief Commission. The relief files of the Provincial Department of Agriculture, the Treasury and Municipal Affairs were the most important in this regard. Although the Western Producer (Saskatoon), and the Leader Post (Regina), appear in few footnote citations, they did provide the writer with a way "into" the decade and gave insights into the prevailing atmosphere, concerns and frustrations of the day. A survey of a small town newspaper, The Goose Lake Herald (Harris, Saskatchewan), produced nothing of value for this study. Ministerial papers, annual reports of Government departments, annual reports and other files of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and of the United Farmers of Canada made a minor contribution to this project. The Minutes of the Council proceedings of the two rural municipalities; Willow Bunch, Number 42 and Marriott, Number 317, and the correspondence of the latter, did not fulfil the writer's expectations, and failed to give any clear picture of the administration of rural relief at the municipal level. Any such picture emerged from the files of the Relief Commission itself and the Department of Municipal Affairs.