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The Economic Decline - Seven Persons

Seven Persons - Once Hundred Sixty Acres and a Dream

Chapter 35

In her many years of existence, Seven Persons has faced a "see-saw" of economical "ups and downs". Much wealth has been brought in and much has been made by her citizens. Good times didn't last and the village faced a decline and an exodus. There have been years when its people were poverty-stricken.

Drought was the main cause of the decline. 1907 is recorded as having a very long, cold winter with very deep snows. Ranchers lost heavily of their horses and their cattle. Some lost their lives.

1911 was without enough rainfall when crops needed moisture so farmers harvested little grain for seed or for sale. 1912 was a better crop year so producers became optimistic again. Following this were two years of drought and then two years of bumper crops. It was World War I time and prices for wheat rose to over two dollars a bushel. What a relief to the new settlers and to the village itself. Many new houses and barns were built to enhance the prairie landscape. Was this yet to be the Land of Promise?

Then followed a period of six years when drought persisted, crops were poor, farmers were broke and businesses of the village closed down and moved away. All the grain elevators but one were torn down and moved to other localities, where they were needed.

When spring rains came in 1923 and 1924, 1927 and 1928, prosperity and hope returned. Quite a few of the farms were reclaimed. Farmers were, as ever, an optimistic and hopeful class of workers.

"If only it would rain; rain lots and rain often, we could have a bumper crop and be on 'Easy Street'. I need it so badly to pay my debts and my back taxes, to give me some money and to make this land bloom again." It was a unanimous wish.

But dry years continued. With the lack of moisture, the soil became powdery and dry. Strong, persistent winds picked it up and blew it in clouds of dust across the land. Farmers were unable to stop it. It became a blizzard, - "a black blizzard". The struggling blades of germinated grains were worn off or were so covered over by piles of sand they died. There were no pastures and no gardens.

"Did you really blow into town, Tom?"

"Blow in! I'm lucky it was in the way or I would have blown right on past. I couldn't see a hundred feet ahead of me."

"I lost my hat and I couldn't chase after it so I put up my hand and caught another one flying by. See! It is a bit big for my head."

"Bud, this dust must have come from Lethbridge. Our fields must be in Saskatchewan by now."

"All joking aside, how are we going to live here any longer when our crops are gone again?"

"I don't know. I'm so disappointed. It is enough to drive a man to drink. Even my well is going dry."

"I know some farmers have ordered free box cars, through the Government, to ship them and their goods up north. It is rumoured that better livings can be made in the parkland areas of Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House, Camrose and even Peace River. There is more rainfall there."

"Yes, I've heard that too, but I hate to leave what Dad and Mother, and I too, have worked so hard to build. We have a fine farm if only we had a chance to continue. "

"That's for us likewise. I think I'll stick to what I have. It has rained before. I'm sure it will again."

"Farmers are such dumb fools, always thinking if they can wait long enough, things will turn out right," said he as he rode off.

So, during the nineteen twenties, the exodus continued until there were few farms in operation. There were few citizens in Seven Persons, and it seemed possible that the village, too, "would dry up and blow away' .

As often happens there were those who were not so honest, who gleaned from what property was left behind. Doors, door-frwnes, windows, furniture, implements and even buildings were taken. Fence posts and barbed wire were taken up and sold. Some farms were completely stripped.

In 1927 rains fell and crops, grass and gardens grew luxuriantly. Fall rye was shoulder high, wheat and oats lush and promising. This year would be different. Then came that fateful day of July 19th when a black cloud with rolling white accompanying clouds curls came up from the north-west. Farmers, to the north of town, watched spellbound, horrified and helpless, as within minutes, hailstones the size of golf balls pelted down. The storm lasted too many long minutes, as it passed from farm to farm, leaving in its wake an ice-covering of hail, several inches of water and a world of devastation. Another crop or portion of crop had been lost.

All that moisture made grass grow. Pastures became lush and green. Livestock fed well. The growth was still tall, if dry in the spring of 1928. One day, in the spring, a tractor was driven from Medicine Hat to Winnifred. Either a spark from the machine or a carelessly smoked cigarette began a conflagration, which became fanned by a strong west wind into a roaring prairie fire. Farmers in its path were aghast and frightened when they saw the oncoming smoke and the flames. There seemed no stopping this monster as it skipped along. It burned pastures of grass, stubble fields, hay stacks, straw stacks, and buildings and fences.

Everyone nearby, including women and children worked frantically to save their buildings. They used ploughs, cultivators, wet beef hides and wet sacks. While most of them saved their homes, the fire ran on, leaving a burnt black path of desolation, ten miles wide and thirty miles, or more, long. It finally burned itself out by a flowing creek. Prairie fires were no uncommon hazard in the Seven Persons area. As always, they did untold damage and were much feared.

1929 was a fair year, and again farmers were optimistic. This was the year of the Wall Street stock market crash. Its impact was felt by all. There were a few direct gamblers in this part of the world too. There were other direct affects: low prices for grain and cattle, low wages, unemployment, a stagnant economy.

The "nineteen thirties" were years of depression for prices dropped so very low. Wheat sold for as little as thirty cents a bushel, calves for five dollars each, and eggs for five cents a dozen. There was no money. The years of 1931 to 1939 are remembered as being times of drought and wind, with the scourge of grasshoppers and cutworms, and with severe winters and many blizzards.

The unity of the family farm was by necessity diminished. Each child, as he completed public school,felt he should obtain employment to relieve the pressure of poor agricultural returns to the family, or to remove the cost of his maintenance from the home expenditures.

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Mary Tollestrup