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The Wages of Relief: Cities and the Unemployed in Prairie Canada, 1929-39

The Wages of Relief: Cities and the Unemployed in Prairie Canada, 1929-39 (Paperback)

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In the early part of the Dirty Thirties, the Canadian prairie city

was a relatively safe haven. Having faced recession before the Great

War and then again in the early 1920s, municipalities already had

relief apparatuses in place to deal with poverty and unemployment.

Until 1933, responsibility for the care of the urban poor remained with

local governments, but when the farms failed that year, and the

Depression deepened, western Canadian cities suffered tremendously.

Recognizing the severity of the crisis, the national government

intervened. Evolving federal programs and policies took over

responsibility for the delivery of relief to the single unemployed,

while the government simultaneously withdrew financing for all public

works projects.

Setting municipal relief administrations of the 1930s within a wider

literature on welfare and urban poor relief, Strikwerda highlights the

legacy on which relief policymakers relied in determining policy

directions, as well as the experiences of the individuals and families

who depended on relief for their survival. Focusing on three prairie

cities-Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg-Strikwerda argues

that municipal officials used their power to set policy to address what

they perceived to be the most serious threats to the social order

stemming from the economic crisis. By analyzing the differing ways in

which local relief programs treated married and single men, he also

explores important gendered dynamics at work in the response of city

administrators to the social and economic upheaval of the Depression.

Probing the mindset of local elites struggling in extraordinary

circumstances, The Wages of Relief describes the enduring

impact of the policy changes made in the 1930s in the direction of a

broad, national approach to unemployment-an approach that ushered

in Canada's modern welfare system.

Eric Strikwerda teaches Canadian history at the University of Alberta and labour studies/industrial relations at Athabasca University.

More books by Eric Strikwerda

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