The Great Depression slashed its way through Toronto during the period between 1929 and 1939. A decade long unemployment slump that saw Toronto unemployment swell to 30% while wages dropped. Excepting Swansea and Forest Hill, municipal governments in the greater Toronto area went bankrupt. Whether you were a college graduate or a mill worker with barely any education, the pinch was felt by everybody.
Changes to Housing
While the situation got so bad some people ended up homeless, more subtle changes came in the form of smaller homes becoming more popular, further out from the city centre, and a move so that 30% of the population would be living in apartments. Construction declined for the period, due to a lack of investment, except for in that one area of residential homes. Though there wasn’t the money to reform slums, there was municipal investment in renovating poorer houses in Toronto during this period.
Changes to Family Life and Politics
The economic pressure was undoubtedly stressful on everyone involved, and anecdotes from the period speak of domestic violence and arguments fueled by lack of opportunities. Meanwhile marriages declined as people simply couldn’t afford to start families. Meanwhile socialist political movements got more popular. This was also the birthplace of many social programs as Toronto gained a Civic Employment Office and Central Bureau for Unemployment Relief during this period.
Changes to Labour
It was not a good time to be an unskilled worker. Industrial production plummeted, and factory workers were one of the hardest hit sectors. Meanwhile, servants became too expensive for general employment by the middle class, but at the same time, new jobs opened up for women. This was mostly confined to traditional spheres, but the role of the female secretary became more established, with women taking classes at a career or business administration college. In many cases their salary would then go to help out their families. As in any time of economic strife, people having trouble finding work looked to education, but only if they could afford it.
The Great Depression ended with the Second World War, but the legacy of the Depression lives on, in the architecture from the period, in family stories and in the social programs that we enjoy today. Today, student study the economic origins in history and accounting courses in Toronto. They learn about stock market collapses and soil erosion problems, and also the different strategies that might avert a second crisis. And the landscape of Toronto has changed. It’s become the economic leader in Canada. Though the global financial situation is never a sure thing, and even the provincial economy can be worrisome at times, at least Toronto weathered the first disaster and kept many of the measures that made it survivable.