New Brunswick Experiences the Depression
This desperation was certainly true in northern New Brunswick where the primary industries - fishing and lumbering - had been hard hit. Hundreds of New Brunswick workers lost their source of livelihood in the early 1930s. In Gloucester County, lumber mills closed and pulp mills reduced production. The Bathurst Power and Paper Company, for example, sent dozens of workers home due to decreasing demands. Likewise, the fishing industry failed after 1929. Not only did catches decrease, but prices paid to fishermen fell, causing a crisis in the industry. This general economic decline continued during the first half of the new decade. By 1932, an estimated 8,000 New Brunswickers were out of work.
With working men unemployed there was no money to pay off loans, taxes, or creditors. Without an employment insurance programme, unemployed workers were unable to pay basic living expenses. Consequently, families were forced to move in with friends or relatives to survive. In Gloucester County, no fewer than 1,100 families were homeless, penniless, and unemployed during the early 1930s. In some instances, as many as four families could be found crowded together in a single-family dwelling. A number of people left the county, some for Québec, where reportedly there were more opportunities. Those who remained struggled to secure basic necessities, adequate food and proper clothing for New Brunswick winters.
At the same time, an increase in population created a demand for vacant land, but none was available except crown lands. In the 1930s, Gloucester ranked third to St. John and Westmorland as the most populous county in the province. The needs of Gloucester County families were known to Dr. W. H. Coffyn, the member of the Legislative Assembly for Bathurst, and the local municipal council, but limited funds made it impossible to relieve all the suffering. In 1932, for example, only 50 per cent of the council's municipal taxes were paid. Adding this sum to previous years' shortfalls resulted in a high total deficit, thereby limiting the council's ability to act.
Generally, after 1932 direct relief was offered to the most desperate families, primarily in the winter months. Yet, the programme still fell far short of providing for basic needs. In 1932, however, plans were afoot to offer families on the verge of starvation a possible way out of their miserable circumstances by returning to the land, and Father J.-A. Allard would take the lead in the project.