The Great Depression

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Compare and contrast The Great Depression in the US and Canada.

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Both the United States and Canada tightened immigration policies during the Great Depression. Prior to the market collapse of 1929, Canada accepted 169,000 immigrants, but the figure fell below 12,000 by 1935. The number did not exceed 17,000 until the depression had subsided. Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were denied sanctuary in Canada. The US also turned away thousands of Jews for fear that they were spies.

A Jewish refugee from Germany who was accused of being a spy by the FBI was Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr in 1942. He was accused of being paid $7,000 by the German Gestapo to steal American industrial secrets. This event was used as an excuse to deny thousands of other Jews immigration to the US, citing threats to national security.

Mass deportation was a policy shared by both countries during the Great Depression. The US government deported up to 2 million Mexican-Americans to Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s, even though over half of them were born in the US. Meanwhile, Canada increased its deportations from under 2,000 in 1929 to over 7,600 in 1932. Throughout the 1930s nearly 30,000 immigrants arriving in Canada were forced to return to their native countries due to illness or unemployment.

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Broadly speaking, the effects of the Great Depression were almost identical in Canada and the United States. Unemployment rates surged to over 30% in both countries, which were plagued by business shutdowns, bank closures, and rising poverty levels. In this sense, because the United States and Canada (and for that matter, most of Western Europe) were so tightly integrated economically, the Depression had similar effects. The initial response of the Conservative government of Canada was similar to that of Republican President Herbert Hoover.

Both governments at first opposed the kind of direct relief that many of their citizens demanded, favoring instead tariff manipulations and voluntary agreements among businesses. In fact, Canada never witnessed such a sustained effort to combat the effects of the Great Depression as the New Deal in the United States. Control of the federal government shifted back and forth between Conservatives and Liberals, and government spending on programs varied accordingly.

Overall, Canada witnessed some of the same labor strife, social unrest, and radical politics as the United States during the Depression, and its efforts to fight the economic effects of the crisis were to some extent responses to these upheavals, which included large-scale strikes. Perhaps the main similarity between the Depression in the United States and Canada was the event that brought it to an end: World War II. Government military spending, as well as the need for thousands of soldiers, led to nearly zero unemployment in Canada (and the United States) by 1940.

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The Great Depression was a global phenomenon, and struck both Canada and the U.S. with mostly similar results.

Both countries began suffering the effects in 1929 following periods of great economic growth. Both countries saw their gross national product (an index that rates the value of all goods and service produced in the country) drop by more than a third. In Canada the drop was slightly more than the U.S. In Canada, unemployment reached 27% while in the U.S. the number was 23%. Canadian industrial output fell to about 58% of what it was, the second worst decline in the world after the U.S.

Both countries began “New Deal” type social welfare programs to support those who were out of work. In the U.S., Roosevelt used the power of the federal government to create a flurry of federal agencies that created jobs, improved public lands, offered financial support and helped farms damaged in the Dust Bowl recover. In Canada, the approach was similar, except that unlike the U.S., the Canadian provinces resisted stiffly to these federal programs.

One major difference between the two was that while U.S. industrial output recovered quickly, the labor force remained small throughout the 1930’s. The reverse was true in Canada, where rural work projects allowed the labor pool to surge back to pre-depression levels while industrial output recovered slowly.

Both countries recovered full only after demand in Europe for war materials boosted economic strength.

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