EAST “Showers” WEST
A great human brotherhood, with political and religious differences submerged, has risen to feed and clothe thousands of needy families in the Western drought area
THE emergency on the prairies loomed toward the end of June last year. It became apparent that for the third successive season a vast section of the wheat belt was faced with a large-scale crop failure. The remainder of the West was hit to varying degrees. Only in a few areas was a normal yield indicated.
Over the southern half of Saskatchewan and contiguous portions of Alberta and Manitoba, the sown soil was blown into drifts. A scorching sun beat upon the land, watering places cirial up, and livestock began to wilt and die for want of feed and drink. More than 1(X).(XX) square miles were blighted.
The farmers, having battled adversity for two years, their faith each autumn feeding on their characteristic “next year” optimism, had looked forward confidently to 1931 for a “corrective” harvest. Complete disaster was their lot, instead.
Reserves of fexxi, clothing, fuel and money reached the point of exhaustion. Whole communities were threadbare. Mass destitution was imminent.
Normally Saskatchewan’s annual production of field crops is worth about $-100,OCX),000. Last year it was roughly $100,(XX),000. The drop of $300.000.000 in the purchasing power of the province afTords a wide perspective of the crisis that liad developed. Incidentally, it offers a striking lesson to the East of what a prosperous prairie zone means to the welfare of the country as a whole.
During 1930 the Saskatchewan Government expended about $2,400,000 on relief.
But by the end of the first six months of 1931, it had expended or incurred obligations on account of public distress to the amount of $17,000.000.
It was then that Rev. E. H. Oliver,
D.D., moderator of the United Church of Canada startled the country with his description of the wretchedness and despair prevailing throughout the droughtstricken areas, and Premier Bennett told the House of Commons that the nation was faced with a national calamity. “I fear it is the greatest that has ever overtaken this country,” he said.
Stirred to its depths by the exhortations of church and secular leaders, the rest of Canada rallied to respond. The Federal Government relief machinery began to whirl, and through pulpit and press appeals went out to Canadians everywhere for clothing, food and money. They brought forth the most effective demonstration to date of the meaning of the word "unity” when applied to a Canadian gettogether effort. For months material help has poured into
the needy Western areas to reinforce the millions spent, and still being spent, by the Dominion and Provincial Governments through such agencies as the Saskatchewan Relief Commission and the Red Cross.
COAT HANGERS by the thousand are idle in clothes closets from Manitoba to the Atlantic Coast and in British Columbia. Contents of cedar chests, trunks and bureau drawers have been sifted, attics ransacked. More than 550 tons of garments, packed in 22,000 bales, have been distributed among the destitute and almost denuded population of the prairies. At the peak of distress this population was estimated to number about 200,000.
With the clothing the great bulk of it collected by church organizations—has gone 5,000 tons of fruit and vegetables to augment the Government rations, and cash running into hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet special needs such as child welfare, maternity, care of
invalids, milk and fuel, provision of particular items of clothing, including boots and shoes, and—what was of primary importance—the maintenance of denominational clergy, missionaries and workers in the field. In more prosperous times these were supported by their owm local affiliations. But church collections had dropped to zero.
Appraisal of the huge quantity of used clothing sent to
the prairies is hardly practical, but 8,000 bales handled by the United Church organization were valued roughly at $250,000. No amount of money could have compensated for the suffering that would have ensued during the bleak Western winter had the clothing not been forthcoming. Nor can dollar signs and decimal points account for the enthusiasm and devotion of battalions of men and women, and young people too, who gave their time, labor and concentration to the task of collecting, sizing, raiding, grading, packing and shipping.
To compare the efforts of denominations and localities would be irrelevant and unfair. Every hamlet, village and town and city—notwithstanding local distress with which they had to cope—enlisted its quota of workers. In hundreds of guild rooms, parish halls, community buildings, and in countless private homes, wartime scenes have been re-enacted. How effective was the work only the bushels of letters of thanks that have come out of the West can adequately tell.
When the appeal went out for clothing, emphasis was placed on usability. Garments that had been discarded because their utility was finished were not likely to be of service under the stress of Western farm life and exigency. The head of one Anglican depot in Toronto said that eighty per cent of the clothing received there was as good as new, and pointed to line after line of overcoats, some of them fur-trimmed or fur-lined and most without blemish or signs of much wear. Arranged about the floor were big chests containing every kind of garment within the range of human use, masculine, feminine and juvenile, and all in sound condition.
Both national railways, co-operating with this humanitarian service, have carried the clothing free, stipulating that only used garments should be included. Western merchants, their shelves loaded with two-year-old stocks, had to be considered.
Happily, the greater part of the supplies reached the distributing centres before the wintry blasts began to whirl along the trails, and many thousands of farmers and their families and others dependent on a capricious Nature for livelihood were given protection against sub-zero weather. Children, warmly clad, were enabled to go to school.
The edge of the clothing famine having been blunted, attention was directed to Christmas. Prospects were gloomy indeed. But under an inspiration emanating from a group of Ontario children, crates of toys and dolls were speeded westward, and Sunday schools subscribed funds for the purchase of more in the shops of Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton. Merchants there released big quantities of shopworn articles at low prices. Tons of preserved fruits and kindred delicacies followed.
Throughout the winter and spring the flow of voluntary relief continued, though in lessening degree, and still
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hundreds of bales of clothing and other necessities are being dispatched weekly to relieve new cases of distress. These are bound to occur until the 1932 harvest rolls around. In recent weeks attention has been directed to a shortage of elements for child welfare, and Anglican groups have been rushing supplies of evaporated and powdered milk.
Bookkeeping of the national largesse on its purely voluntary side probably never will be complete. The churches, which had been providing a certain measure of relief i to their adherents in the West for two i years, went full blast into action when the Í crisis arose. But there was no thought of j competition or of denominational credit, j least of all of a trial balance.
Because of its centralized organization J and its handling of relief through a “national i emergency committee” headed by the modi erator, the United Church is better placed I for figures, but as Rev. John Cobum, the ! organizer, explained, the magnificent totals contained in the committee’s recent report represent a community rather than a denominational achievement.
Apart from the 8,000 bales of clothing and other material and financial relief supplied under the auspices of the United Church, the committee supervised the dispatch of 158 carloads of fruit and vegetables, eighty-eight of which went from Ontario, thirteen from British Columbia, five from Prince Edward Island, one from Nova Scotia and fifty-one from those sections of the West engaged in mixed farming and where conditions were more prosperous. The latter incidentally offers a fine illustration of the readiness of the prairie people to help their own, reflected still further by the big contributions of clothing and other necessities by those living in the urban centres. Among the very first to send relief in large quantity were the Ukrainians of Manitoba, who contributed the bulk of ten United Church carloads of food.
Roman Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Women’s League, sponsored forty-one carloads of foodstuffs; Presbyterian, seven; Lutheran, seven; Moravian, two, and other protestant denominations, two. In lieu of food from the East, the Anglicans sent money for the purchase in the West itself of canned goods and other staples, thus at the same time helping the prairie merchants. Eight carloads were dispatched by private groups, while sectarian organizations, including the Masonic order, women’s institutes. Rotary, Kiwanis and boards of trade, sent eighteen.
It has been calculated that the 243 carloads of food that converged on the destitute areas had a cash value of approximately $160,000. Each car, it is further estimated, provided a quota for 200 families. Thus nearly 50,000 families were served.
“Denominational lines have been completely broken,” said Mr. Coburn. “Each church has worked independently and in conformity with its own structure. But in effect they have been simply clearing houses. If the United Church has been able to show a larger volume it is because of its adaptability to such a situation.”
As John W. W. Stewart, former general manager of the Monarch Life Assurance Company and one of Mr. Coburn’s chief lieutenants, expressed it: “Geographical, racial, religious and political differences disappeared, and a great human Canadian brotherhood came into being.”
The Uses ol Adversity
ARCHBISHOP McGUIGAN of Regina,
I *• Roman Catholic metropolitan in the j West, who recently visited the East, told I the writer that not one case of discrimina¡ tion or partiality in the distribution of j relief material had come to his attention.
"My instructions to parish clergy and others engaged in the work,” he said, “were j that aid was to be given wherever need was j found, irrespective of religious affiliations,
and I have reason to know that they were only too willing to carry them out.”
His Grace—who, by the way, at fortytwo, is the youngest archbishop on this continent—expressed deep appreciation of the manner in which the clergy and workers of all denominations co-operated one with the other and with the Government agents in the alleviation of suffering and want, and in the equitable portioning of the supplies so generously sent from the East and from British Columbia.
“It has established a new communion between East and West,” he said, “and it has served also to dispel what had remained of the religious rancor that prevailed a few years ago in sections of the prairies. Shakespeare said, ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity.’ Out of the current troubles has arisen a new spirit of comradeship.
“Perhaps also,” he added, “it will produce a new sense of caution and conservatism in the West, causing the people to proceed along steady and sure lines in the development of the country. This sad experience will not be without its benefits.”
Speed was the keynote. The task was to get the needed supplies to the prairies with the least delay, and leave to those on the spot the responsibility of proper distribution. The United Church has sent its clothing to a central warehouse in Regina, where its apportionment has been carried out under the direction of Rev. George Dorey. A similar Regina depot was established by the Presbyterians, with Mrs. G. H. Home, wife of the superintendent of missions, in charge. Seventeen tons of garments, or about 700 bales, have passed through her capable hands.
Under the general supervision of Rev. Canon C. W. Vernon, head of the Church of England Social Service Council, more than 6,000 bales of clothing were placed in the common pool. This figure, however, is only approximate. An accurate accounting is unavailable because each diocese has worked more or less independently, maintaining its own close liaison, through its Dorcas Society branch, with church agents stationed in the needy zones. Some dioceses have kept only a rough record.
The method followed by the Anglican workers illustrates the general effort to avoid overlapping in distribution. Individual appeals from distressed families have poured into the diocesan centres throughout the country, but none have been answered directly. Instead, the required supplies have been dispatched to the nearest church station, with a note attached explaining for whom they are intended. If, in the meantime, a particular family’s wants have been relieved from another source, perhaps by another denomination, then the supplies have been diverted to other people in need.
The Anglicans have concentrated to a large extent also on relief for the northern areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta, cooperating with the Red Cross in caring for the small army of farmers who have migrated from the dried-out districts of the south, seeking fresh pastures. The Bishop of Athabasca had appealed for help, stating that “there are literally thousands of settlers in the Peace River area living on the land very close to Nature.’’ Similar conditions have prevailed in the Meadow Lake district of Saskatchewan.
At the dawn of the crisis. Rt. Rev.
McAdam Harding, Anglican bishop of
Qu’Appelle, which diocese lies athwart the
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drought-stricken areas, proposed that all effort be directed through the Red Cross. The Saskatchewan branch already was actively engaged under an arrangement with the Regina Government.
BUT the national Red Cross organization, which functions as an auxiliary of the Federal Government, was for the time being handicapped by a technicality. The contention of Ottawa has been that relief of distress is primarily a municipal matter. If municipalities cannot cope with it, then it becomes the duty of the province in which they are located to aid them. Then, if a situation gets beyond the capacity of a province, it devolves upon the Federal authority to see that the province is endowed sufficiently to enable it to function.
Immediate employment of the National Red Cross, it was held, would imply a recognition by the Federal Government of a first responsibility.
While this snarl was being straightened out, all the church, welfare and social service agencies of the country had sprung independently to action, and their ultimate co-ordination was conceived in the increasing urgency of the Western situation. The Saskatchewan Relief Commission was established and assumed general supervision over the relief in the drought areas; the Red Cross was allotted the secondary and northern zones, and all the voluntary organizations worked in with both.
The only other hitch in the general panorama of the relief activities occurred in connection with the first shipments of fruit and vegetables from Ontario. A vast quantity of these foodstuffs was going to waste, and medical authorities, conscious of the menace to the health of the prairie people incident to a concentrated diet, urged that the excess supply be sent to the West. The United Church committee at once took hold of the idea and, with the benediction of the Saskatchewan Relief Commission, the work of loading cars began on scores of sidings.
But it seems that the Saskatchewan com-1 mission had not reckoned with the freight costs, and word came by telegraph that because of this factor the commission were obliged regretfully to decline the offer.
The misunderstanding produced an awkward situation. About fifty cars were all ready to move. The United Church committee. following a further exchange of telegrams with Regina, appealed to the railway ! authorities at Montreal and also to Mr. ¡ Bennett. Finally, to the relief of all conI cerned. Sir Henry Thornton and Mr. E. W. ; Beatty offered to transport the fruit and ¡ vegetables to the West free of charge.
But these incidents were lost in the J general broad results of the Western relief activities. There had been no precedent in Canadian history of such operations within our borders, at least on such a great scale, so there was no definite plan to follow. But co-ordination of effort was conceived in the increasing urgency of the situation, and the work has been carried to its conclusion swiftly, efficiently, wholeheartedly, and with a minimum of noise and hullabaloo.
What the West itself thinks of it all is summed up in the statement of Hon. J. T. M. Anderson, premier of Saskatchewan;
“The magnificent response of our brother Canadians in the East and elsewhere to our call for help in our drought-stricken areas has been appreciated by us all. and I am sure that in the years that lie ahead, as a result of this beneficence, there will be a spirit and feeling of cordiality between East and West which no passage of time can obliterate.”
The same sentiment was put in more unique form by a farmer of the Yorkton area of Saskatchewan. Recently he publicly made the suggestion that if the approaching harvest is anywhere near the normal the farmers of the West donate three or four bushels of wheat per acre each, to provide a fund for the relief of distress in the East.
What could be more significant or fairer than that?