Having a job that paid a living wage, with perhaps a little left over for pleasurable spending or socking away for retirement: this is the least that Canadians expected of life early in the twentieth century. The extent to which this dream all went so dreadfully adrift in the 1930s forms the substance of this chapter.
The mapping of the Trek in Search of Work, 1928-1939 reinforces the east-west, transcontinental structure of Canada, quite at odds with the north-south alignment of physical features: the Appalachians, the interior grasslands, and the mountainous west. The greatest volume of transient people passed through northern Ontario and eastern Quebec, resource-based regions beyond the ecumene and least likely to offer work. Conversely, the Prairies were well populated but stricken with drought, a natural disaster on top of the economic one. The Great Depression played out differently across this highly regionalized nation.
The Relief Recipients by Province (static map) varied both in time and space. Saskatchewan peaked at nearly 40 per cent in 1938, Ontario at just over 10 per cent in 1933; Prince Edward Island offered no relief until 1933, and never more than 4 per cent were involved. Are we witnessing generosity or stinginess? Almost invariably the proportion of a province’s population on direct relief was greater – much greater – than the proportion of that province’s people resident in those cities (see graph: Relief Recipients by Selected Urban Areas, 1935). St. John’s and Regina are the oddities, lacking disproportionate welfare cases; these remained in the outports or on the farms.
Canada’s Depression has been largely recorded – and remembered -- as a national episode. However, national-scale data are unmappable, because all Canada would be one colour without useful differentiation. The maps in this chapter help enrich the spatial understanding of this desperate decade.