Canada in the Second World War


A Hot Sucking Wind

Edited by Barry Broadfoot, Ten Lost Years 1929-1939: Memories Of Canadians Who Survived The Depression, 1973, p. 38, 48-49

Canada in the Second World War - Events

Drought conditions showing drifting soil along a fence between Cadillac and Kincaid, Saskatchewan, 25 July 1931.
National Archives of Canada, PA-139645.

“I’ll tell you what that Depression was like. It was survival of the fittest and I read my Bible more now than I ever did and I never read of hard times like that, like we had in the middle of the Thirties. They was Dirty Thirties all right.

My boy and I were farming near Manyberries and it was dry land farming. No irrigation. You hoped for lots of snow and a slow runoff and good rains in June and July and sun at the right time. You hoped for everything and you got one or two, not everything, but you could make a crop and get by. It was grazing land, the Palliser Triangle, and it should never have been bust but there was a lot of land-taking in the early 1900’s, Americans and immigrants, and my Dad was as much a grabber as the next. Just grab, grab, grab.

Here’s how it was. Let me tell you. The wind blew all the time, from the four corners of the world. From the east one day, the west the next, and if you were working you didn’t notice it too much but the women did. Ask my wife, but she’s dead now, she said the wind used to make the house vibrate, and it was just a small wind, but there, always steady and always hot. A hot sucking wind. It sucked up the moisture. So this wind just blew and blew, and we had dust storms and times when we kept the lanterns lit all day.

Oh yes, here’s how it was. I could walk, say in August when you couldn’t have grown Russian thistle in a creek bed, I could go about 10 feet beyond the house fence and pick up a clod of dirt, as big as this fist. I’d lay it on my hand and you could see the wind picking at it. Pick, pick, pick. Something awful about it. The dry dust would just float away, like smoke. Like twisting smoke from that piece of land. If I tightened my grip, if I squeezed and crumbled her, then it would blow faster and right before your eyes in a few minutes that hunk of dry dirt would just blow away, even the bits of dust which collected into the wrinkles of your hand. I used to say the wind would polish your hand shiny if you left it out long enough. You’ve got to understand, this was no roaring wind. It just was a wind, blowing all the time, steady as a rock.

That dirt which blew off my hand, that wasn’t dirt, mister. That was my land, and it was going south into Montana or north up towards Regina or east or west and it was never coming back. The land just blew away.”

Updating the Family Bible

“There were places in the south country where people just picked up and left. Some just turned their horses loose to live or die. You could drive down a side road—if you could make it because there hadn’t been maintenance for years—and you could pass eight, ten farms on both sides of the road and no smoke coming from any chimneys. All abandoned. They just packed up their belongings, their few joys, put what they could into the truck or wagon and headed west to British Columbia. Some went north, the government was saying go north, the Peace River, up there, and they had a terrible time. We farmed around Manyberries, that’s south of Medicine Hat and it was very bad times there and we wound up in Kamloops. My husband got a job in a machine shop and we came through all right.

I remember, after the war he’d come back from overseas and I met him in Winnipeg and he got leave there and we were going to have a Second Honeymoon and his father lent him his car. Gas was rationed then, you know, but there were ways of getting coupons and Bud’s dad, he farmed near Winnipeg, he knew all the ways, believe me. We got to The Hat and I said we should go down and look at the old place. Bud didn’t want to, but finally he said okay and we got there and it looked the same after 10 years. The equipment shed had blown or caved down but the house could be made liveable. There was even most of the furniture, what the rats and mice hadn’t torn out or eaten. I went into the parlor and even the pictures, of Christ and Our Lord, were on the walls. It was scary. Bud came in and said he wondered if the family Bible was still around, we’d forgot it, and I went to the china cabinet and pulled out the bottom drawer and sure enough, there it was.

Old as old, been in my mother’s family for four generations, but good as it ever was. Nothing had changed. Right there and then I made two entries for the kids I’d had in Kamloops and the death of my mother in ’42 and we were right back where we started again. That Bible is in my home right now.”