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Lethbridge, Alberta: “Ye Shall Obtain Riches … to Feed the Hungry”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 25, 2010

The same extreme drought and wind conditions that brought the Dust Bowl to Oklahoma and other Plains states in the U.S. extended north into the Prairie provinces of Canada. Saskatchewan was especially hard-hit, beginning in 1929. Year after year the rain failed to fall. The land dried and the earth’s surface cracked and hot winds stirred up huge dust storms, carrying away the parched soil and piling it in drifts against fences and buildings. At least a quarter million people fled Saskatchewan during the ‘30s. Those who remained hoped against hope that each year of drought would be the last, that when they planted their seed in the spring it would take root rather than blowing away with the next wind. But year after year the drought continued until by 1934, its resources exhausted, Saskatchewan could not feed itself.

Aid poured into the region by the boxcar, chiefly from Canada’s eastern provinces, from both government and private sources. At least a thousand families were totally dependent that year on the food collected elsewhere and distributed by Saskatchewan’s churches and government agencies. Yet it never seemed to be enough: photographs of dead cattle and the gaunt faces of hungry people appeared in issue after issue of most newspapers.

To the west, the Mormon farmers of southern Alberta were living in much different conditions. Not only was the drought not so severe, but the irrigation canals dug by their fathers and grandfathers at the turn of the 20th century brought water to virtually every Mormon farmer’s fields. The growing season of 1934 produced a bumper crop in the Lethbridge Stake, with potatoes, onions, cabbages, turnips, and other produce piling up in the barns and storehouses of the Saints.

Grateful for their abundance and keenly aware of the suffering elsewhere, the high priests’ quorum of Lethbridge Stake joined the national effort to relieve the farmers of southern Saskatchewan. Under the direction of stake president A.E. Palmer and the day-to-day management of George W. Green, committees were formed in every ward and branch, and farmers began pulling into the designated depots and contributing their loads of vegetables. Others donated cash, or sacks, or contributed their time to bagging the produce for shipping.

The committee contacted officials of the Canadian Pacific railway company who agreed to ship the collected food without charge. The Church had few direct contacts in Saskatchewan – Regina’s 20 LDS families would be among those who received aid, but they could hardly be asked to assume responsibility for the entire distribution. Too, this aid was intended for any hungry family, not only members of the Church. In one of the first great ecumenical partnerships to include LDS humanitarian aid, the United Church of Canada agreed to cooperate with the Lethbridge Stake and see that the produce reached those who needed it most.

With the publicity given to the project by the UCC, non-Mormon farmers of southern Alberta joined in the effort and soon the trucks and wagons dropping off their loads of potatoes and cabbages were as likely to be driven by Methodist, Catholic, or Presbyterian farmers as by Latter-day Saints. Instead of the single car anticipated by the Lethbridge committee, two boxcars were filled and sent on their way.

One car reached southern Saskatchewan before Christmas; the other shortly after. Willing hands among all churches in that province unloaded the cars and saw that the produce reached hungry and grateful farm families. At least 200 families received produce from the first shipment, and an unknown additional number from the second.

The tons of produce shipped from Lethbridge and surrounding communities was only a drop in the ocean of aid that poured into Saskatchewan from all sources, but it was a significant donation by a relatively small group of farmers. In addition, it proved that Mormons and their neighbors could cooperate despite the interminable tensions between them, setting the example for future humanitarian efforts throughout the world.

“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:19)



18 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this story. We live in the Lethbridge stake, and President Palmer’s son lives in our ward. This story means a lot.

    Comment by Kim Siever — February 25, 2010 @ 7:26 am

  2. Thanks, Kim. I’d be interested in knowing, if you cared to ask around, whether stake members retain a memory of this effort. A lot of people can rattle off the fact that we sent flour to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and shipped food and bedding parcels to Europe after World War II, but I hadn’t heard about the Lethbridge farmers until yesterday.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2010 @ 8:15 am

  3. That’s a lovely story. I hadn’t realized that the Dust Bowl extended up into Canada.

    Comment by Researcher — February 25, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  4. “one of the first great ecumenical partnerships to include LDS humanitarian aid”

    Wonderful!

    Comment by Hunter — February 25, 2010 @ 8:53 am

  5. Really moving, Ardis. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  6. Lovely, thanks. It’s a reminder of how much good can be done when we partner with anyone willing, no matter our differences.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — February 25, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  7. Fascinating story. I’ve read Tim Egan’s The Worst Hard Time about the dust bowl years, which is a fascinating read, but it focuses exclusively on the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle, and the southeastern part of Colorado, not really mentioning Canada, that I recall.

    As a side note, my wife’s ancestors were in the Lethbridge, Alberta area around the turn of the century, and were involved in building the irrigation canals there. However, an earlier drought had hit Southern Alberta in about 1913 and 1914, and as a result, her family left off homesteading in Canada and returned the US, eventually settling in the Burley, Idaho area just before WWI. They actually left Alberta in covered wagons, which they eventually loaded on a train to finish the trip to Burley. My wife has some great pictures of these 20th century “pioneers” in covered wagons, which is a little bit of a surprise to see.

    Comment by kevinf — February 25, 2010 @ 11:30 am

  8. A member of the Lethbridge East Stake, I will also ask around. My parents were raised in S. Alberta during the depression and had stories of their own to tell. My paternal g-grandfather moved his family to Alberta in 1910, from St Anthony, ID. Maternal g-grandfather settled near Cardston in 1890’s. {kevinf – It’s always fascinated me how, especially among Church members, our lives intertwine.}

    The depression hit hard in Canada. like most farming areas in USA, farming practices of the day contributed to the dust bowl. Many modern farming practices to preserve and rest the land, using summer fallowing, etc, came out of the hard lessons of the dust bowl years. It took years to learn the lessons. As a child in 50’s & 60’s, we would often see ditch banks full of wind blown soil. Not so common now.

    Comment by Glenn Smith — February 25, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

  9. kevinf, can you say “guest post”? That comment written up in a little more detail, with a picture, would be a fascinating post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

  10. OK, you are on. I need to scan in the pictures, but they are way cool. Give me a few days, and I’ll send one in.

    Comment by kevinf — February 25, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  11. Deal!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

  12. kevinf, I second the request for guest post.

    Ardis, I loved the way you painted detailed pictures with your words. I especially liked the sentence “Year after year the rain failed to fall.”

    Comment by Maurine — February 25, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  13. As promised, I contacted a past stake public affairs director. She is a person who knows people who know people. She read your post and was intrigued. She promised to pass it on to Lethbridge people who may be interested in providing more detail for you.

    Comment by Glenn Smith — February 25, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

  14. Thanks, Maurine. You know like I do how you can come to love the people you run across in your studies. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can authentically put ourselves into their lives, but I really try to do that, to see and hear and feel what they did, and then incorporate those concrete details (if I can find historical support for them) into posts to recreate the past for readers. Thanks for noticing those details.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  15. Great, Glenn, thanks! It would be especially interesting, I think, to have the names of a few more people involved, and some personal stories, no matter how brief, about what specific individuals did and what it meant to them to offer their help.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  16. I love how you keep digging up these wonderful stories Ardis.

    Comment by Tracy M — February 25, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

  17. Glenn, more connected than we realize. I just read my wife’s family history, and they also moved from the St. Anthony area to Magrath, just south of Lethbridge, in 1902. The story is more interesting after I have reread it, so my wife and I are going to work on it together over the weekend, and see what we can accomplish.

    I love connecting family stories to bigger events!

    Comment by kevinf — February 26, 2010 @ 12:11 am

  18. Ardis, once again your research has shown the generosity of Church members across the decades. I think your tying this to Jacob 2:19 is exactly right. Thanks for all your hard work.

    Comment by Geoff B — February 26, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

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