Within the past eighteen month forty thousand (Canadians have left near-destitution in the city for comparative plenty on the farm
BILL SMITH—let us call him that—was a carpenter at Toronto.
Back in 1928, when building was brisk and work plentiful, he earned $45 per week, which seemed a good deal better than sweating over potato rows.
Bill paid $35 per month rent, gave his wife a generous allowance and the two children pocket money. He owned a second-hand car. On occasional week-ends he drove the family to his father’s farm, thirty miles away, to show how well he was doing in the big city. Bill’s father never said much, but he did not agree that his son had decided wisely.
True, Bill had a trade, and carpentering paid better than garden produce. It was easier work, too—a forty-four hour week. The old man never bothered to count the hours he worked. He liked farming; Bill didn’t. Bill wanted thrills, excitement, life; and he could find none of these on the farm. In contrast, the big city offered easy work, good pay, dances, shows.
Bill liked the bright lights, but he was no waster. When he married he put aside part of each week’s wages, did not draw on his savings even when the children came. On New Year’s Day, 1930, Bill told his dad that he had $1,00C aalted away and the latter need not worry about his old age because he. Bill, would look after him.
One year later Bill was not so sure that he could. Work had not been steady; savings had not been maintained. Toward the end of the year Bill had drawn out money to buy winter clothes for the children. When 1931 opened there was only $800 in the bank, and the second-hand car was a happy memory. Bill was not unduly discouraged. When business picked up in the spring, he would regain the lost ground.
But business did not pick up. Spring found Bill drawing on his savings for the necessities of life. After the money was gone—what then? Bill knew his father would take care of him and the family if the worst came to the worst His father was feeling the pinch, too. but on the farm there was plenty of food. Just the same. Bill could not bring himself to ask his dad for help. Not yet. anyhow.
Something must be done. Bill put his mind to it. No use looking for work. He had tried and tried. He could not even get a permanent job at day labor. Others needed jobs more than he. Bill still had savings, while scores of married men had nothing.
Words which his father had spoken long before haunted his mind.
“You may get good money in tire city for a time,” the old gentleman had said, “but if trouble comes you’ll have nothing to fall back on. There’s one thing about a farm —you’re sure of three meals a day.”
Carpentering lost its charm. Bill found himself recalling with pleasure good old days when he had milked cows, fed pigs, hoed potatoes. His dad liad been right.
About this time Bill saw an advertisement in a newspaper. He read that the Federal Department of Immigration and Colonization, in co-operation with the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway companies, was willing to help unemployed persons who possessed a little capital to establish themselves on the land. Suitable farm properties
would be found free of charge and easy payments arranged. Bill went to the Toronto office of the Federal Land Settlement Board, a branch of the Immigration Department.
After that, things happened pretty fast. Within three weeks. Bill had said good-by to the big city. He had also said good-by to $150, a good part of his remaining savings. He was now the proprietor of a five-acre market garden farm in Peel County, and his father was cheering from the sidelines and offering assistance.
Bill did not accept his dad’s help right then. He put the deal through on his own. without any help other than that of the Land Settlement Branch and the railways. And when all the papers had been signed, and everybody had shaken hands, this is what had happened :
The farm had been bought for $1,500. Bill made a down payment of $150, the balance to be spread over eleven years at $171, interest and principal, each year. There was no house on the property. He rented a shack near by for $2 per month, and ten weeks later moved into an adequate little home of his own building.
Bill still had a little money left. He bought chickens, later on a cow and some hogs. He borrowed a horse from his dad. Meantime he found occasional carpentering jobs to do in the communities near by—more work than he had got in the big city in the previous year.
Bill intends to make carpentering a side line, to build up his property until he is a successful produce farmer. He is hopeful, ambitious. His wife likes the farm, and the children were never happier or healthier. His whole outlook is changed. Instead of looking forward to the time when savings would be gone, to the bread line, or to living with his father. Bill is started on a life work—farming.
Bill’s case is not an imaginary one. It is drawn from life; is an actual experience.
And what happened to Bill has happened to more than
6.000 other married men. The individual cases vary, but the net result in each one is the same. Six thousand families,
12.000 single men—42,882 people in all—have been taken from the ranks of the unemployed and established on the land. The single men, for the most part, are not proprietors,
but have been found jobs with farmers. They are in a position to save money against the day when their chance to buy will come. Meantime they are obtaining invaluable experience. This has been done without Government subsidies, without one dollar of cash assistance. This is the achievement in the most unusual “Back to the Land” movement this country has experienced.
The Government Takes Hold
ITS origin goes back to midsummer, 1930. The Bennett Government had taken office; Hon. Wesley Gordon had become Minister of Immigration and Colonization.
Mr. Gordon was a newcomer to public life, to Federal affairs. He found himself confronted with a problem. This problem could be reduced to a handful of simple facts, but to find the solution was a different matter. Here are the facts: The country was in the grip of depression. There were some 200,000 unemployed. Immigrants were being brought in at the rate of 150,000 persons per year.
Mr. Gordon toured the Dominion for the purpose of obtaining first-hand information. He decided at once upon a policy of restricted immigration. He found a well-defined desire among many unemployed, in all parts of the country, to return to the land. Many of them still had a little capital —their savings in the good years—but did not quite know how to go about looking for property.
An opening for constructive work presented itself. If machinery could be created which would bridge efficiently the gap between the unemployed and the land, nothing but good could result.
Mr. Gordon knew something of our previous State-aided land movements; of the soldiers’ settlement and the 3,000 family scheme. There had been losses on both, particularly the former, and he must guard against repetition of such losses. Moreover, time was a factor of supreme importance. The capital of the unemployed, while very often large enough to purchase land, was being rapidly dissipated. The unemployed were living on their savings or largely so, and
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I every day’s delay meant a shrinkage in the number of ;>ersons who could be handled.
The policy which began to take form, back in September. 1930, was this:
Mr. Gordon decided to find out who were the large land owners and land sellers; to harness them into one organization which j would seek out prospective purchasers among the unemployed, find suitable properties for ! them, provide free of charge all such j services as inspection and after care. The settlement was to be carried out along business lines. There would be no subsidies, no cash assistance. Each person would be encouraged to buy only what he could ; afford. No one would be put on a farm ¡ unless there was a very good chance of I ultimate success. All details such as equipi ment, annual payments and the like, would I be arranged.
There have been many land movements in Canadian history, but most of them have been carried out on the principle of charging all the ‘‘traffic would bear." In these movements it was not the business of the vendor to see that purchasers got good value, got ; land they could handle, upon which their chances of success were good.
In his own department Mr. Gordon found one large land-owning organization, the Federal Land Settlement Branch. The Branch, as a result of previous Government land settlement operations, had many i vacant farms of which it desired to dispose, j He found two other organizations in the J Colonization departments of the Canadian I Pacific and Canadian National Railways, j Still further, many of the provinces were ¡ land vendors, and so they qualified for a place in his scheme of settlement. Lesser units, such as mortgage companies and private colonization companies, could be added at pleasure.
Mr. Gordon initiated his policy by inviting the presidents of both railways to Ottawa. They agreed to co-operate with the Land Settlement Branch, so that, almost at once, he had the nucleus of a large land marketing machine at his disposal.
A Central Clearing House
AT THE outset the co-operation was somewhat loose, but it worked. It was decided that unemployed settlers should be located within their particular province, as near as possible to their home towns.
Ordinarily this would present difficulties. But that is precisely where the co-operation between the three large land-owning interests became most valuable. Moreover, through its far flung field staff, the Land Settlement Branch had a very ready and efficient instrument for discovering suitable farms which were for sale.
A central clearing house, of course, was not only desirable but essential to efficiency. Mr. Gordon found one close at hand, in the Colonization branch of the Immigration Department. This department became the connecting or co-ordinating link between the various organizations.
All that was now necessary in order that this improvised machinery should begin to function, was that the unemployed, from Halifax to Victoria, be advised that every assistance short of money would be given. This was done through all unemployed organizations and through direct newspaper advertisement.
Early in the autumn of 1930 the wheels began to turn; the latest “Back to the Land” movement got under way.
The results were astonishing, even to those who had believed in the soundness of the policy. Hundreds of unemployed persons who had come from the farm to the city, whose savings were still substantial, heard of the opportunities now afforded for land settlement. Many of them applied. Applications were made to either railway company, or to the Land Settlement Board.
If the organization receiving the applications liad a suitable property for sale, the deal was put through at once, and full detail sent to the central office. If tiffs
organization did not have suitable land, then the case was referred to the central office at Ottawa, and thence was forwarded to the other two organizations. If a suitable property was still lacking, the field staff of the Land Settlement Branch was canvassed, private owners were approached.
A voluntary supervising committee was set up. This committee met from time to time, discussed difficult cases and a future policy. The members were: Hon. Wesley Gordon, Minister of Immigration; J. N. K. Macalister, Commissioner of Colonization for the Canadian Pacific Railway; W. J. Black, Director of Colonization for the National Railways; Thomas Magladery, Director of Land Settlement; W. M. Jones, Commissioner of Colonization; R. J. C. Stead. Director of Publicity of the Immigration Department.
For the purpose of this scheme, all rivalries, all competition, were eliminated. The Land Settlement Branch, owning hundreds of vacant farms, desired to sell them. The railway colonization services ordinarily were active rivals in the sale of farm lands. But in this new movement, all three buried their desire for individual success in order that the general good might prevail. If the Canadian National did not have a property suitable for a particular applicant, no attempt was made to load him with a bad buy. He was turned over to the central office, which probably took him to the Canadian Pacific or to the Land Settlement Branch. And if all three could not serve him, then all three went scouring the country for private owners who could. There is no record at Ottawa of more unselfish, more sincere co-operation in a common cause than in this strange back-to-the-land movement.
ONE of the strong points in such an arrangement was that the organization could be enlarged without friction or loss of efficiency. Early in the movement the desirability of including provincial governments became obvious. They were included. Then it became necessary to set up provincial committees consisting of representatives of the local government, the district superintendents of the Land Settlement Branch, and the railway colonization departments. This was done. Both the central and the provincial committees are voluntary. No one is paid for the time given to these meetings.
Most of the provinces had settlement schemes of their own. The Federal organization did not place any obstacles in the way of these organizations. On the contrary, every encouragement was extended and the fullest co-operation given.
Occasionally there have been requests to widen the scheme, to have the Federal treasury put up money to finance settlement of those who have no resources. These requests have been refused. The Dominion, however, has agreed to allow municipalities to place unemployed [>eople on farms, and to consider expenditures so incurred as direct relief. The Dominion pays twentyfive per cent of direct relief. But this is something entirely separate from the Federal back-to-the-land movement.
Mr. Gordon began his settlement scheme in the fall of 1930. Eighteen months have brought these results:
Land to the value of $11,500,000 has been sold. The average price paid was $2,000. In all, 6,040 married men with families have been transferred from the ranks of the unemployed in the cities to the country; 12,682 single men who would soon have been in the bread line are now on the land. All told, nearly 43,000 people have been changed from needy urbanites to selfsustaining rural dwellers.
In addition, Quebec has placed 4,000, Ontario 2,500, and Saskatchewan 1.000 on the land. Of the total, more than fifty per cent of these new farmers are Canadian or British bom; the others are mostly Northern Europeans.
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