By the early 1920’s, the prairie grassland areas of Saskatchewan had been homesteaded into farms. The farmers soon discovered the economic value of periodically leaving each of the fields plowed but unseeded and free of weeds for a growing season. The land could rest and thus produce a better crop the next year. Unfortunately, this practice left the soil dry, powdery and susceptible to drifting, particular in years of drought. As much of the land as possible was cultivated and seeded with grain crops to maximize income. Areas of the natural prairie grass were cultivated, resulting in large unbroken stretches of fields without ground cover. Trees to act as a windbreak, or areas of grassland to catch the drifting soil, were sparse throughout the expansive areas of the prairies.
During the ten years from 1929–39, drought was widespread across the prairies of Canada and the northern United States. The dryness was broken only by infrequent intervals of pounding rainstorms, which served only to create little rivers without soaking into the parched fields. Those years were called the ‘The Dirty Thirties’ on the prairies because of the blinding dust storms. The hot summer winds churned the topsoil into blinding clouds blowing across the fields and into the buildings. The ditches were filled with soil, and dunes were created by any obstructions such as fence posts or buildings. Attempts to seed a field were thwarted by the winds, which blew the topsoil, and the seeds, away. Sprouted crops withered in the blazing sun and from lack of rain. Farmers began moving into the towns and cities in search of work and a pay cheque.
In a cruel coincidence of fate, this was also the time of the major stock market crash leading to a nationwide depression. City people who lost their money in the stock market crash sought to find a less money-oriented life in rural areas. They hoped to find work, or at least sustenance, on a small farm. At the same time when farmers were leaving the farms in search of non-existent jobs in the cities, penniless city folk were trying to move into the rural areas. No one escaped unaffected by the ‘perfect storm’ created by the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties.
I was born in Saskatchewan during the Dirty Thirties. I missed the early part of the Dirty Thirties experience by not being born until 1933 (the year when the recession hit its lowest point, ushering in the Great Depression). Then I slept through the next few years of it.
The Roaring Twenties would have been a much better time in which to have been born, but somehow I don’t recall having a choice at the time. Or, if the New Age people really are right in their belief that pre-born babies get to choose their place and circumstances of birth, I must have just chosen poorly.