The Fight for Farm Parity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1935-48
By David Monod
FOR MANY FARMERS IN western Canada, the inter-war years were decades of discontent — decades born in depression and marked with suffering, insecurity, and social upheaval. Except for a brief period in the mid-1920s, when agriculture experienced a significant though short-lived recovery, the prices of grain and livestock were in steady decline after 1919.
The impact of this prolonged price depression on the western farmers was devastating as it affected all sectors of their economy; incomes declined sharply while mortgage indebtedness, interest payments, taxes, and labour costs remained high. There were many causes of this crisis, but part of the explanation lay in the changing nature of the industry itself. With the growing use of mechanical equipment, the farmers' capacity to produce increased at a rate faster than the power of the population to consume. Consequently, prices declined precipitously and unmarketable surpluses became chronic.
Mechanization did, however, carry with it certain unassailable advantages: it freed the fanner from a reliance on expensive and transient labour, regularized operations, and in the long term allowed for the reduction of production costs per acre. At the same time, it tied the farmer to the modern economy, with its compulsion to find more income to obtain fuel, machinery, and equipment and dragged farmers forever into the orbit of the dominant industrial culture.
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In 1946, frustrated by the federal government's continued refusal to guarantee them a minimum subsistence income, the small farmers of Alberta and Saskatchewan staged a 30-day "farm strike." The strike was Canada's largest direct expression of agrarian unrest; at least 60,000 farmers were active participants, and at its height the action interrupted deliveries of produce to almost every local point outside the Palliser's Triangle area.