The Long Decade: 1930-1939

The 1920s had been a decade of growth in Maple Ridge. The footprint of agriculture was expanded as developer’s reclaimed low-lying land with dykes and ditches. Meanwhile the riverfront was active with sawmills and the fishing fleets at Albion and Katzie. To the north the Abernethy Lougheed Logging Company moved into new timber limits and proceeded to remove hundreds of millions of feet board measure of timber between 1921 and 1930. The stock market crash in October 1929 quickly evaporated Allco’s American financing, leading to the layoff of hundreds of men in a town with a permanent population of only 4,000.

Finnish families from Webster’s Corners sailed from Canada for Petroskoi in the Nordic region of Karelia. They hoped to escape the Depression by building a communal society in the countryside (1932).
P13173: Finnish families from Webster’s Corners sailed from Canada for Petroskoi in the Nordic region of Karelia. They hoped to escape the Depression by building a communal society in the countryside (1932).

Weakening markets affected milling. By the middle of October 1930 the mill at Port Hammond, one of the largest in Canada, was closed until the times could improve. Between 1930 and 1933 it would stop work at least four times for months. By the end of 1931 British Columbia’s unemployment rate was heading towards 30% because of the collapse of natural resource industries. Unlike on the Prairies, where drought in the latter half of the thirties caused  depopulation of rural areas, farmers in Maple Ridge held on to urban markets for milk and fruit. The Port Haney Brick Company likewise remained intact. Employing as many as 50 people, it shifted from the production of bricks to the production of agricultural piping.

Locally, the political scene was dominated by Solomon Mussallem, who was reelected as mayor nine of ten times between 1929 and 1939. Provincially, the district was represented by Conservative cabinet minister Nelson Lougheed from 1928-1933. The Conservatives were swept from the legislature in 1933 as the province responded to Liberal Duff Pattullo’s call for “Work and Wages”.

By the end of 1930, it was becoming clear that high unemployment was structural. Municipalities could apply for “relief work” funds but were at the mercy of the provincial Ministers of Labour and Public Works, to whom they had to submit evidence of serious unemployment. The money was spent almost exclusively on the labour portion of public works projects: in Maple Ridge, Mussallem’s first effort was to deliver a water and sewer system to Hammond.

The Depression challenged traditional family roles. Many women who had entered the clerical and administrative workforce during the 1920s felt social pressure to give up their employment to create space for men, a phenomenon that would recur at the end of the Second World War. Some jobs, like commercial packing of fish and fruit, remained “women’s work”.

Political action during the Depression demonstrated to children only the loudest voices are heard. The students of Maple Ridge went on strike in April 1939 to demand the construction of a modern high school. Many local administrators—and even many parents—were appalled by what they saw as an act of disrespect. The walkout received national attention and garnered meetings between the Ministry of Education and the local council. In 1940 a bond measure backed by an increment on the school tax—previously rejected four times—was passed by referendum, suggesting many adults had rethought their opposition.

Culturally, the town’s celebrations were joined by new mass entertainments like the cinema—adapted to a rural setting. The church continued to be an important feature of community life. Baseball, long encouraged in Maple Ridge by mill manager Doan Hartnell, was the community’s most beloved sport. Improvements to the field at Hammond and a new ballpark in Pitt Meadows were some of the few investments in local parks made during the Depression.

The long decade of the Depression was finally ended by world war, which produced huge demand for Canada’s natural and human resources.