THE WEST IS STILL THERE!
CHARLES CHRISTOPHER JENKINS
Hon. T. C. NORRIS, Premier of Manitoba.—
“Conditions indeed might be a great deal worse, and, considering what the rest of the world is going through, the West has a great deal to thank Providence for. I think we are in better shape right here in Winnipeg than they are in many Eastern cities. Also, you have to take into consideration the splendid recuperative powers of Western Canada. I expect, however, that things will be somewhat dull until next Fall. One good crop, at prices giving a fair margin of profit to the farmer, would go a long way toward straightening matters
Hon. W. M. MARTIN, Premier of Saskatchewan.—
“The passing of a few months often puts an entirely new aspect on a situation in the West. A ny increase in the price of our farm produce or a substantial drop in the freight rates, which would amount to the same thing, would make a great difference to our people, even now, although it is true that the greater portion of our 1921 crop has already found its way to the market.
“You should be very careful not to give the impression that the people of our Province are disheartened, although they are disappointed. Western Canada has wonderful recuperative powers and a well-deserved reputation for optimism, as well as for the industry, the energy and the ability which warrants this faith in the West and its f uture.
“We people on the Prairies cannot help but feel that these millions of acres of fertile land, only a fraction of which has yet been brought under cultivation, were intended by the Almighty for some good purpose—and an unprofitable crop is not going to discourage us.”
Hon. HERBERT GREENFIELD, Premier of Alberta. —“We will get away from dull conditions quicker than any other part of the world, because the West is young and has all the mental, moral and physical recuperative qualities of youth, and because the West always has new opportunities to offer. We are confident that soon we will be a promised land for agriculturists from the war-burdened countries of Europe who will come here with Iheir wealth and ambitions to help us develop Western Canada.
“In our own province more than fifty per cent of the ara-
le land available for homesteading has yet to be brought under the domination of the plow and the seed-drill. If our country can get away from the. high cost of clothing, machinery and \ other products which the farmer and the western workers and salaried people must buy, we will break through this period of-stagnation and once more be back to our old stride. On that particular point I would like to remark that one of our great evils in Canada is the search after wealth beyond what is needful to keep ourselves in comfort and to raise and educate our families.”
PRAIRIE Canada has harvested and shortly will have marketed the second largest crop in its history: a wheat crop, which, according to the estimate of the North-west Grain Dealers’ Association, totals 251,555,000 bushels. Of this, when seed, feed and country milling requirements are deducted, 113,655,000 bushels is exportable. Statements secured from the Statistical department of the Dominion Board of Grain Commissioners, Fort William, show that the total amount of wheat exported by Western Canada between the crop seasons 1911-12 and 1919-20, inclusive, was 1,496,763,600 bushels. Divide that amount by nine and it will be found that
the average crop of exportable wheat since the Grain Board has been charged with keeping official records of inspect ons was 166,307,066.6 bushels per crop year.
Thus it may be discovered by a simple matter of subtraction that the exportable 1921-22 wheat crop is actually 47,347,934 bushels greater than the average crop for the past nine years.
Yet in the face of this, when the payments are all made, the collective paying and buying power of the western farmers—and by that is meant the amount of credit and cash they will have at their disposal to pay outstanding debts and buy necessities—was impaired by more than sixty per cent. In other words, where the average western farmer of fair circumstances had a dollar to spend during the period from 1917 to 1920 he will have but forty cents or less during 1922.
That approximation, of course, does not apply to farmers who have reserved assets in Victory Bonds, gilt-edge investments and cash profits saved from the payments for previous crops. It applies, however, to farmers who are dependent on the returns from the 1921-22 crop, and they are in the vast majority.
The reasons advanced for this condition of affairs by those whom I interviewed during a recent trip around the three prairie provinces are legion; in fact, they are so numerous and complicated that their relation in detail would only lead to confusion. The outstanding circumstances are these: the western farmer brought his 192122 crop into being, harvested, threshed and delivered it at a peak of costs, and by reason of the phenomenal slump in grain prices and the lowering of the grade of his product by the heavy and continued rains at the latter end of the season, had to accept for it two-fifths of the average price in vogue in recent crop years—one dollar, and very often less, per bushel when he had confidently expected to receive two dollars to two dollars and fifty cents at least.
Where this magnificent crop of wheat, under more favorable harvesting and threshing conditions and at war and post-war prices, would have been bringing in a revenue of more than half a billion dollars, it will not, under existing circumstances, net much in excess of the two hundred million mark.
Wheat is, and will for a long time remain, the main crop on which the West depends for its revenue. I have not mentioned the production of other cereals and live-stock so far, but the influence of the revenue derived from them does not materially better matters. The revenues from oats and cattle in particular are, if anything, a worse disappointment than that from wheat.
The western mind, both in theory and in practice of its economies, looks upon wheat prices as the basis upon which ail other prices in Canada should be gauged. The graingrowers and the urban populations of the grain-growing Dolts now most vehemently insist that prices of farm machinery, doubled since 1914, and of clothing and other necessities which they must buy out of their curtailed revenues, must come down in ratio to the prices paid for wheat. The western people are one in this determination, and a general mood to spend their money even for things they need from day to day will not be in evidence till they are
convinced a genuine attempt is being made to deflate the prices of the things they must import from Eastern Canada and other parts of the world.
Those are hard-boiled facts which not only the West but the whole of Canada must face unswervingly, calmly and with a sincere disposition to be fair about it.
Still Confident, Unshaken
THERE is no aspect to the western situation that should produce the tendency to national hysteria noted in some quarters, particularly during the recent federal election campaign. The people of the West are disappointed but not disheartened; disillusioned so far as this year’s prospects are concerned but'in no sense discouraged by the prospects which the future holds in store for them. To say more or less than that would be untrue to the impression generated from a first-hand survey of the three provinces.
The West is still there, confident and unshaken; as potential and self-reliant as ever. Grizzled old-timers point out that it has gone through worse crises with less substance in man-power, .developed resources and organized storage and transportation machinery to meet the shock of adversity. Younger men have looked the facts in the face and cheerfully accepted the new responsibilities all must share to meet the situation and carry on with the same old vim that transformed the prairies from an unproductive desert into one of the world’s greatest grain-growing areas.
Naturally, one would expect to find prairie conditions accurately reflected in the cities and towns of the West. Western cities, it seemed to me, show less evil effects from the world depression than are to be noted in almost any manufacturing city of the East. One could not walk with the merry, surging Yuletide throngs on the streets of Winnipeg—that beautiful metropolis of great wide thoroughfares, clean, white skyscrapers, smartly-dressed people and brilliant night illumination—and feel that times were bad and business going to the dogs.
Saskatoon was perhaps not as ambitious as when I lived there in 1911, but this time it had a far more valuable tone of solidity and substantiality.
The band that blared “O Canada” through Edmonton’s streets the first night I was there quite personified the spirit of the city; for they played the Canadian anthem not once, but three times, just by way of expressing their exuberance of good cheer.
Calgary always has had a happy individuality—perhaps a natural result of being several thousand feet nearer heaven than other cities in Canada—and although Calgary made no secret of the fact that it had three thousand in
its unemployed ranks, the majority of these were drifters from other parts óf the country. One could not but be favorably impressed with the general activity of the place and the brisk, cheerful mien of the inhabitants. Regina was no exception to the rule; business there was not quite normal Christmas business, so I was told, but one would not guess it in surveying the customers crowding all the stores.
Banking on Next Crop
N ALL the western centres of population congestion is proving a problem and house rents and prices of residential properties remain high. House-building has not kept pace with the natural increases of population, and though each of the cities has its small army of unemployed, building activities remain almost at a standstill. There seemed every indication, however, that lowered costs of material and labor would precipitate quite a building boom in the spring. In Winnipeg plans were under way for the opening up of a new residential area for the construction of homes as soon as weather conditions permit.
Neither bank managers nor chartered accountants to whom I talked appeared to be very optimistic. Collections were about as slow and difficult as they had ever been known to be, partially because of the scarcity of money and partially because many are not in the mood to pay up their obligations. They all seemed inclined to the ■view that patience must be exercised ; things cannot possibly be straightened out until another crop is harvested, and that crop, to do the trick, will have to be a good yield selling at a fair margin of profit to the farmer.
As far as mercantile business was concerned, the larger stores of all the Western cities reported a volume of Christmas business as large , or nearly as large, as the Christmas business of 1920. In the case of one of Winnipeg’s largest stores it was actually larger. Said the manager: “During this season we have sold more merchandise than we did during the same period last year. The tonnage of goods sold has been considerably greater in every department except that devoted to household furnishings.”
On the other hand, the smaller stores of the cities were suffering from curtailed trade, especially clothing stores. There seemed only one explanation for the spread in the contrast—the larger stores were actually absorbing the share of existing business that would otherwise flow to the smaller stores because their opportunities for early deflation in prices were less hazardous; they started cutting prices to the bone when they saw what was coming. A comparison of present prices, however, shows that most lines of ready-made clothing can be purchased in Western cities as advantageously as in the average eastern city. Shoes, for some reason, seem to be still very high in price.
The “stand-pat” mood of the farmer has spread to the cities. I found among professional and salaried men a disposition to' hoard that was reminiscent of wartime, and this may have considerable to do with the tardiness with which clothing stocks «re moving.
“See this suit?” proudly indicated a man whose salary per annum is somewhere near the five figure mark,
“Well, I am just saving ninety-five dollars by wearing it again this winter instead of giving it to the Salvation Army and having a new one made.”
Gutting Expenses to Bone
THEN he went on to relate that he was saving fifteen dollars a month by attending to the furnace at his house instead of pay. ing a furnace man ; that he had cut off fifteen dollars a year by having the extension on his house telephone removed and dear knows how much more by leaving his car in the garage and using the street cars instead.
Personal retrench ment seems to have become a mania among the middle
classes. The manager of a big organization told me he was wearing a ready-made suit. “I usually have my clothes made’ to order,” said he, “and I am not wearing ready-mades because I cannot afford ordered clothing, but because a principle is at stake. Eighty and eighty-five dollars is too high for a suit of clothes, and high prices are killing bulk sales and thus cutting down factory employment. Merchants had become so accustomed to getting any price they cared to ask for their wares
that it has been hard for them to realize that they must rely on small margins and better business methods to hold their trade nowadays. Think of asking thirteen dollars for a suit of underwear! Fourteen dollars for an ordinary pair of shoes! Business people seem to have failed to observe that wheat, our basic product, is now selling for a dollar and less where it formerly brought two dollars and two and a half.”
Your true Westerner believes that wheat is what makes his particular world go round. Wheat prices are to him the mercury in the financial thermometer.
While there is a disposition to turn close corners in personal expenses, there is no evidence of a diminishing public spirit in any of the cities. Though money by-laws were invariably voted down at the municipal elections, with a determination that was symptomatic of the underlying mood of the people, public subscriptions for worthy causes have been liberally taken care of. Winnipeg, at the time I was there, was raising by public subscription $50,000 to finance the Winter Carnival and the executives in charge said they were meeting with general support and the Carnival would be quite as big a success as ever.
That Old “Go-Ahead” Spirit
MOST of the smaller towns appear to be full of the old spirit of “go ahead!” While it was a fact that all the cities complained with just cause of congestion and lack of building construction to take care of housing requirements, the smaller towns outside the crop failure districts were nearly all busy putting up new residences and new public buildings. Splendid new schools and new skating rinks are in course of construction in many of them. Rink buildings costing well up to $10,000 were being financed by public subscription in many of the small centres.
It is the retailers of the small towns of the West who have to bear the brunt of general complaints about the slow deflation of prices of manufactured goods. Actual cutting of the prices doesn’t always succeed in making the goods move out any faster. A dealer in men’s wear told me of an experience he had with hosiery that he offered at fifty cents a pair, the price being actually ten cents less than the hose cost him wholesale. But the public didn’t appear to recognize the bargain and he had to take the goods out of the show-cases and the window unsold.
Later he engaged a young man who had been a salesman in one of the big city stores as manager. One morning he came down to the store and found that his new manager had the same hose out in the window marked at eighty-five cents a pair.
“I had a good laugh to myself over his attempt to sell for eighty-five cents what I could not get rid of for fifty,” the merchant related. “What happened? Why, the public which had turned up its nose at those socks when they were marked fifty cents a pair fairly ate them up at eighty-
This, of course, is an isolated instance. In the main, merchants who have cut their prices to the bone, and have made up their minds to deflate quickly, are getting the lion’s share of the business. Widely-advertised reduction sales will no doubt be features in all western cities and towns this winter.
As has been stated, the cities and towns are merely a reflection of conditions in the rural districts. The western farmers and stock-raisers have been up against severe jolts in the past season—jolts that would surely have brought a disastrous depression in a less substantial and courageous country. There was first of all the sudden descent in the price of wheat. Grain went down the deflation slide frem $2.50 to $1.50 and finally to a dollar a bushel and less. Then came a calamity in the shape of continued rains almost all over the West during the late harvesting and threshing season. Against the inevitable rust Marquis wheat stood up the best; at least that was what I was told in numerous sections of the three provinces. Millions of bushels of wheat which would have graded No. 1 Hard and No. 1 Northern dropped in grade to No. 3 Northern, mill feeds and “toughs” and “wet grain.” Much of it sprouted in the stooks and was made next to worthless.
Oats Harvested at a Loss
THE oat crop at a market price of forty cents and less was, in many instances, harvested at a loss. I saw field after field of oats in all three provinces standing in the winter weather and the snow just as the binders had left it. Some of this, I was told, might be threshed later or used for feed, but at present prices it wasn’t worth threshing and marketing. “After one pays his threshing bills and the freight there is mighty little left for his work out of a 'crop of oats,” was the way one farmer explained why he had left a hundred acres of oats standing in the field.
Looking over all that potential food lying out in the fields under the snow one couldn’t help wondering just what is wrong with our world system when thousands of human beings are facing starvation in Russia, China, Armenia and other parts of the world where they have no crops and little hope of relief. More, right in each of those western provinces, in the crop failure districts, are families who would be mighty thankful to have the wherewithal to make oatmeal porridge three times a day for the winter! Somewhere between the time the crop leaves the farmer’s hands and is delivered at the consumer's door there is a discrepancy in cost of service far out of proportion to what the world can afford to pay for the service. If there wasn’t such a discrepancy, grain would not lie rotting in the fields in one part of the world while the moans of men, women and little children go up elsewhere for just enough food to keep body and soul together.
At any rate, farmers say oats were not worth threshing. They had to take the lowered price for the grain after they had paid the topnotch price for production, most severe of which were the charges made by thresher and farm laborers, particularly toward the latter end of the season. Farm laborers demanded and received as high as seven dollars a day, and threshers, according to a sworn testimony given at a district court case tried at Regina while I was there, charged as high as $240.00 a day. It was brought out in evidence that rates for threshing were raised from $75.00 to $150.00, and a witness named G. White gave evidence that he had charged the rate of $240.00 a day.
But even in the face of the lowering of grades owing to the rains at the latter end of the season and the high cost of production, it might not have proved an unprofitable season for the farmer had Europe and other bread-buying countries of the worid been in a position to pay the price which wheat, in ratio to other products, should have been worth this year But penniless Europe could not pay the price and the bottom drooped out of the p arket at the critical moment when the western wheat
farmer had to meet and pay his larger accounts, and this came as a double-headed dissappointment.
Think They Pay Through Nose
' I ■'HE wave of discontent among the western farmers, A however, does not seem so much levelled at the low prices which they are getting for their products as at what they deem prohibitive prices for the things they have to buy. Everywhere in all three provinces I heard bitter complaints about the freight rates, the prices of clothing and implements and the burden of increased taxes. The farmers think the manufacturer and the retailer have not deflated rapidly enough to meet the situation, and this is one of the prevalent, moods that has helped to swell the ranks of the Progressive element on the prairies. At that, I
think, the introduction of Progressivism by the political intelligentsia saved the West at a critical moment fnom a saturnalia of socialistic and bolshevistic doctrines, which no doubt, in the face of existing circumstances, would have taken a dangerous hold on the minds of the foreign elements and the semi-learned.
It is the farmer with big debts to pay, who wasn’t lucky or enterprising enough to get his threshing completed before the heavy rains, who has great difficulties to face. Sixty cents, according to official figures given me by the Agricultural Department at Edmonton, Alberta, was an average price received for wheat.
Say such a farmer as that referred to at the beginning of this paragraph got prices
for h i s wheat that averaged sixty, cents a bushel. He had to pay out eighteen cents, twenty cents and higher per bushel for having it threshed and twenty cents and more per bushel for shipping it to Fort William.
It can be seen from that the farmer was in luck if he had ten or twelve cents a bushel coming to him for his own work and worry and the wear and tear on his
farm and implements, after he had paid his labor costs.
When such a farmer drives to Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Calgary, Edmonton or another market with a cow-hide and he fails to sell the hide at two cents a pound, it can be well imagined how resentful he feels about being asked to pay seven to twelve dollars for a very ordinary pair of shoes. Naturally, he thinks there is something powerfully rotten in Denmark! In his recent mood he was ready to vote for anything that meant a change—a partial explanation, perhaps, of what happened in the West on federal election day.
The rancher and the stock-raiser have met reverses similar to those suffered by the farmer. The Fordney tariff in conjunction with other current circumstances has played havoc with the price of cattle in the West. One Saskatchewan farmer told me that he had a cow and a yearling calf for which he was offered $250.00 a year ago. To raise some ready money he thought to sell the cow last fall and the highest price he was offered was $24.00. That gives an idea of what has happened to cattle prices in the West.
What’s Wrong with Export
OR TAKE the verbatim statement of an Alberta rancher: "Before the war we did some exporting of range cattle from Alberta, and the cost of laying a steer down in Liverpool from our shipping point was $17.00. This included feed, yardage and all incidentals. The ocean space ran from twenty to forty shillings per head, or roughly five to ten dollars. To-day the cost is sixty dollars and Canada now boasts of her own merchant marine. Yet they ask: ‘What’s wrong with the West?’ The question really is: ‘What’s wrong with the rest of the country that it wants our products for pre-war prices and insists on peak and nearpeak prices for what it seeks to sell to us.
“It seems to me,” he continued, “that something might be done to relieve this situation, as, with a freight rate measurably higher than the pre-war rate, cattle at present prices in England would net a fair return to stock-raisers. Every animal, whether stocker, feeder or beef, sold at present Winnipeg or Calgary market prices makes a direct loss to the producer of as much as it sells for. In other words, cattle are selling at less than half what they cost to produce. Many cattle during the Fall sold for less than the feed cost which they consumed last winter.”
There was also the recent case of a stock-raiser in the Grand Prairie country, in Northern Alberta, who shipped a carload of cattle to Edmonton. On the whole carload he estimated that he made a profit of $18. But he had to go to Edmonton to transact the deal and his fare and expenses amounted to $36.75, so that he claims he was really out $18.75—or, to put it as he put it, he would have been $18.75 to the good if he hadn’t bothered his head producing cattle at all.
The prospect for higher prices in the immediate future did not look very bright at the time I was in the West.
In the Winnipeg Grain Exchange I learned that heavy crops of wheat were expected
to be harvested in both Argentine and Australia, and the crops from both those countries amounting all told to about 250,000,000 bushels, would shortly be thrown on the market. This, however, would not mean that the world would be over-stocked with wheat, I was told; Great Britain would absorb the most of the Australian and Argentine crops.
“Present prices are not exactly the result of supply and demand,” said Dr. Robert Magill, Secretary of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and former Chief of the Dominion Board of Grain Commissioners. “The world is not overstocked nor liable to be over-stocked for some time to come. If Europe had the money or the goods to give us in exchange for what our wheat is really worth to Europe price levels would be considerably higher. But the stubborn fact is that Europe has not the money.”
Dollar Wheat the Zenith
LEADING grainmen were chary of making predictions as to what might happen in the wheat market, but none looked on the return of $2.50 and $3.00 wheat as even a dim possibility. Said a veteran of the grain trade: “You must remember old days in the West when the farmer dreamed for years and years of dollar wheat. Such a thing as two-dollar and three-dollar wheat was then something utterly beyond the range of his calculations. But in the Great War period the unexpected happened. When the price of wheat went up in Canada the price of other things gradually went up in ratio until we had what has been termed peak war prices. With the decline in the price of wheat there will be—and is in fact now in progress—a similar gradual decline in the prices of things the farmer has to buy. But unless the unexpected happens he cannot hope to see wheat go much over the dollar mark, if indeed it maintains the dollar level. The farmer must prepare to adjust himself to normal prices for his wheat and normal prices for wheat are below the dollar mark.”
Old-timers among the grainmen declare that times just now are “slow,” but not “bad.” “It was in the early eighties that we had all sorts of bad seasons,” said one veteran of the plains. “Why, at that time they had to pass exemption laws to save the farmers from general bankruptcy! Farmers were blaming everybody in particular for causing their hard luck and there was wild talk of tearing up the
Although most districts in the West report more or less damage to wheat through the late rains, the reports of the Government Grain Inspection Staff would seem to indicate that the total crop so far handled has not been very
far inferior in quality to the general average for previous years. Officials of the Inspection Department state that a crop that grades eighty-three per. cent. No. 3 Northern and over is pretty well up to the general standard attained by the West. Of wheat inspected up to the middle of December the percentages that stood at No. 3 Northern and better were
officially given out as follows:—
August and September 93 1-2 per cent. October 76 per cent.
November 75 per cent.
On Friday, December 16 last there was irv store in public terminal elevators at the Canadian Head of the Lakes 9,433,000 bushels of wheat, of which 2,676,000 bushels graded No. 1 Hard and No. 1 Northern, while 6,914,000 bushels graded No. 3 Northern and slightly better.
Another feature worth considering is that there are numerous farmers who threshed early and marketed their wheat with despatch, thus securing the high prices which prevailed at the start of the threshing season and at the same time getting their crops off in time to escape the disastrous rains. The farmers who were in a position to thresh early also had the advantage of lower threshing bills than those whose crops had to be taken care of in the late rush.
npHE prosperity or lack of prosperity in Western Canada cannot be fairly judged by conditions existing in any one community; nor even by whole sections of any one province. Western Canada is such a tremendous country that community surveys of conditions might prove very misleading. It would be quite as unfair to gauge general conditions in the West by those which exist, say, in the new settlements in the districts between the lakes in Manitoba or the crop failure areas in Southern Alberta and Southwestern Saskatchewan, as it would be to size up the prosperity of Montreal or Toronto on a basis of the poverty and distress one might discover in their tenement areas.
In each of the three Western Provinces may be found in varying degrees both prosperity and actual want. By way of illustration take this year’s experiences of two farmers in different parts of Saskatchewan. Each is typical of what may be found in any of the provinces:—
Farmer A is a returned soldier, who made his start on a western farm after demobilization. His previous experience at prairie farming was not quite as thorough as it might have been and his capital was almost nil. Last summer he had in crop thirty-five acres of wheat and forty acres of oats. His harvest amounted to four hundred bushels of wheat and nine hundred bushels of oats. His total revenue, after deducting seed for next year and feed for his stock, was $271.00. Farmer A’s farm is mortgaged to the Soldiers’ Settlement Board, from whom he secured it, for $2,700. His debts accumulated during 1921 amount to $1,300. His thresher’s bill alone was $123.00. Just think of a proposition like that facing you! Yet this young fellow, who has had to apply to the authorities for relief in the meantime, is as confident that a good crop will yet put him on top as he is that the sun will rise to-morrow. Courage is the middle name of Western Canada.
farmer B, on the other hand, is a seasoned wheat-grower of the West. He started twenty-one years ago with just enough capital to buy a disc plow, a drill and enough horses to break and seed the land on his Saskatchewan homestead.
His first few years were years of adversity, possibly as disappointing as Farmer A’s experience. He had to learn how to handle the soil to make the most from it, as it happened to be that peculiar though very fertile type that rolls into small balls like shot and blows away before the breeze if not cultivated so as to resist the ravages of the winds. The second season a hail storm cut his crop to
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pieces just when it was ripening, not even leaving him enough for feed for his stock. A following year he suffered heavy losses through frost—and then the tide turned as it always does in the West. Farmer B today owns outright the eight hundred acres of land he works, as well as twelve thousand dollars worth of farm equipment, the latter including three binders and a threshing outfit. He doesn’t owe a cent to anyone and has a fine line of credit at the bank if he has need to draw on it. Farmer B had in 1921 what he terms an average crop. His wheat averaged twenty bushels to the acre and his total crop stood at 7,000 bushels of wheat and 4,000 bushels of oats. For his wheat, which he threshed early with his own threshing outfit, he received $1.50 a bushel at the track, leaving him, after he had paid the freight to Fort William, $1.30 net. Farmer B has reached a point where a so-called “lean year” does not materially affect his resources.
Needy Are Well Cared For
CONDITIONS in crop failure districts of the three provinces make added burdens for each to carry, and each has accepted that responsibility cheerfully. The West is taking care of its needy inhabitants on a thorough and systematic plan. In view of the rumors in circulation with reference to unemployment in the cities and crop failures in the country, two things impressed me. I did not meet a single man, woman or child, no matter how hard up, who abused the country and during the course of my whole’trip I was approached on only one occasion by a man begging for assistance. The spirit and pride of the people is inspiring.
Manitoba has its most significant relief problems in the districts between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba, where a large settlement of returned soldiers is making a start on new land and facing severe pioneer conditions, for there, almost every foot óf land has to be cleared of scrub oak and stones. Nevertheless, with the most difficult year in many to make their start, those ex-fighting men and their wives and families have all the cheery optimism of the old-time prairie settler. The very
life of one of their communities is the English bride of a Canadian soldier—a girl who before her marriage was an actress in Old London. She is the self-same type of British stock as that which pioneered Eastern Canada when our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were hewing down the trees in the Niagara Peninsula and along the shores of the Great Lakes, taking a genuine joy out of every day at her housework, assisting her husband to carve a farm out of their bit of the wild and organizing the musical talent of the community for entertainments in the evenings.
There’s a story they tell up there of the English bride of another Canadian soldier. It seems that her parents in England were showing a letter they had received from her to some friends who happened to know Western Canada, and in this letter the girl assured her father and mother that she and Jim were getting along fine, and they had now “a herd of five thousand gophers on their farm.” The old folks were considerably taken aback when they learned that gophers were not a species of Canadian live stock.
All things being considered, the West is merely facing problems of its own that come of the identical prime causes that have more or less brought a depression in every other part of the world. The effect of these particular problems has been to accentuate the significance of incidental difficulties—difficulties that in a year of higher prices for wheat would be completely ignored as such, though they would be taken care of in the deliberate and efficient manner in which that part of Canada always attends to its particular affairs. And, as Premier Greenfield, of Alberta, expressed it, the West will be among the first to spring back into prosperous times —good times that will make everybody happy and contented again.
As one Moose Jaw man expressed it, the West will be like the man who was currying his mule during a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning hit the stable and the mule kicked him at the same moment. When he woke up happy in Heaven he wasn’t sure whether it was the lightning or the mule’s kick that sent him there— and he didn’t care.