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Alberta Before the War

The Great Depression of the 1930s had a devastating effect on most national economies, and Canada was no exception. General unemployment, bankruptcies, farm foreclosures, and crop seizures were widespread. Wheat prices collapsed during the early 1930s and remained low throughout most of the decade. To make matters worse, a persistent drought engulfed much of the Prairies. Pessimism was a common sentiment among Albertans as high unemployment and poverty gripped the province. Traditional political parties seemed overwhelmed by the crises and incapable of generating new ideas or solutions to these problems.

Desperate for change, Albertans, in 1935, elected William Aberhart’s Social Credit party. Social credit economic theory stipulated that the creation of new money, or credit for the majority, would combat the power of the few who controlled the world’s financial systems. The new Social Credit government believed that increasing the purchasing power of all Albertans through an infusion of credit would encourage people to spend and, subsequently, stimulate the economy. Aberhart, however, had little success implementing the party’s economic platform. The legislation required to make the necessary changes was well beyond the scope of provincial powers as outlined in Canada’s constitution of the day, the British North America Act.

Albertans shared an increasing sense of dread with respect to Germany’s military might and aggressive expansionist policies, but, like most Canadians, they were far more concerned with their own domestic affairs. In early 1939, Senator Major-General William Griesbach (Rtd.) argued that war with Germany was inevitable and that Canada needed to be prepared for another European conflict. The Lethbridge Herald scoffed at Griesbach’s remarks, noting that “outside of a few militants, there is not an iota of war sentiment in Canada.” Preoccupied with making ends meet and with ensuring there was food on the table and clothes to wear, most Albertans tended to agree with the Herald.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada in May and June of 1939. This national tour included stops in several Alberta communities including the capital, Edmonton. It served as a much needed “shot in the arm” for Canadians and Albertans alike, raised the level of patriotism across the land, and reminded people of their deep-rooted cultural, economic, and military ties to Britain. Premier Aberhart encouraged all Albertans to do their bit to ensure the Royal couple was warmly and enthusiastically received. Albertans and Canadians alike turned out in record numbers to welcome George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first reigning monarchs to visit Canada. Publicly, Premier Aberhart echoed Prime Minster King’s sentiments, stating that in a time of crises, “Canada’s place is beside the Mother Country and the Empire ….” Privately, Aberhart feared the worst, and these fears would soon be realized.

References

Byfield, Link. “In a poor and angry world the hostilities resume,” in Aberhart and the Alberta Insurrection, 1935–1940, ed. Ted Byfield. Edmonton: United Western Communications, 1998.

Francis, Douglas et al. Destinies: Canadian History Since Confederation. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, 1988.


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