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The Great Depression

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Students will explore five different sets of data from the Canada Year Book 1937 to reach conclusions about the effects of the worldwide depression on Canadians. After working in small groups, students will recapitulate some of the indicators of the Great Depression with the class. The students will create either a cartoon or letter to the editor of a newspaper describing the problems and recommending a way out.


  • To locate relevant information from historical sources.
  • To analyse, classify and interpret information from historical sources.
  • To read a variety of graphs, charts and tables for specific purposes.
  • To describe trends in graphs and tables using informal language.
  • To use vocabulary specific to the topic.
  • To make inferences and draw conclusions.
  • To communicate information using cartoons or letters to the editor.
  • To demonstrate an understanding of the factors that characterized the Great Depression for many Canadians.

Suggested grade levels and subject areas

History, Social Studies


30 to 40 minutes for the introduction (steps 1 to 5)
45 to 55 minutes for worksheets (step 5)
50 to 60 minutes for review and brainstorming (steps 6 to 8)
30 to 60 minutes for cartoon or letter to the editor of a newspaper and summary (steps 9 and 10)

Vocabulary (as used in the context of this lesson)

Acre – area of land (0.04 hectares).
Acreage – number of acres planted with a particular crop.
Bushel – a unit for measuring the volume of dry goods (in Canada, a bushel is approximately 36.4 litres).
Commodity – anything that is bought or sold.
Domestic – of or within the country (not foreign or international).
Drought – extreme lack of precipitation (rainfall, snowfall, etc.) over a period of months or seasons.
Export – sell to people in another country.
Export market – a place or group that provides a demand for an export.
Great Depression  – a serious economic crisis affecting most Canadians during the 1930s. Many people lost their jobs, some were unable to care for their families and many single men could not find work.
Index – a scale used to compare variables with one another or with some reference number.
Social – relating to society or its organization.
Social safety net – a way to protect members of a society against difficulty or loss.
Trend – a general tendency or pattern.
Yield – amount of a particular crop obtained from a hectare or acre of land.


Canada Year Book resources

1937 (PDF)

Classroom instructions

  1. Review the following outline with the class:
    1. Using the Canada Year Book 1937, you will complete a student worksheet with your group.
    2. As a class, we will complete Student worksheet 6 and summarize our findings.
    3. You will create a cartoon or letter to the editor summarizing the issues and recommending a way out of the Great Depression.
  2. Review with the class some characteristics of the Great Depression, such as the following:
    • Loss of export markets
    • Loss of disposable income
    • High unemployment
    • Widespread poverty and suffering
    • Drought on the wheat lands of the Prairies
    • Lack of a social safety net.
  3. Divide the class into five groups. Their challenge is to explore each of five historical documents from Canada Year Book 1937 to investigate each of five factors that characterized the Great Depression. One factor will be examined per group. The factors are:
    1. Canada's leading domestic exports, fiscal years 1890 to 1936 (group 1)
    2. The trend of employment (graph), 1926 to 1936 (group 2)
    3. Index numbers of rates of wages, 1913 to 1936 (group 3)
    4. Acreages, yields and values of principal crops grown in Canada, 1927 to 1936 (group 4)
    5. Index numbers of employment as reported by employers in leading cities (group 5)
    Note: Each group is asked to find only a specific and manageable set of information and record this on their data sheet. Remind students to work together and to focus on finding only the data requested.
  4. Take the class to the computer lab and help students access the Statistics Canada website and find the Canada Year Book 1937. Hand out worksheets.
  5. Have each group complete their worksheet. Remind students to brainstorm answers and check one another's work.
  6. Review each group's findings with the entire class. Complete Student worksheet 6 on an overhead transparency or using the electronic version.
  7. Brainstorm with the class possible remedies and ways to help Canadians during the Great Depression or future depressions. What was missing for many Canadians in the 1930s? The social safety net was not securely in place until after 1936. Students may already know about aspects of our current safety net, such as employment insurance, welfare and medicare. They can brainstorm additional ways to deal with the social and economic costs of the Depression on families and individuals. Remind students that as we have not researched the cost of living or consumer prices, we cannot generalize about people's standard of living or ability to support their families using the information on wages alone.
  8. Brainstorm with the class possible ways to explain the difficulties or characteristics of the Great Depression to a person unfamiliar with using the data they have recorded from the Canada Year Book tables and graph and the conclusions they have drawn. They will show their understanding of the era in the format of a cartoon or letter to the editor.
  9. Have the students create a cartoon or a letter to the editor of a newspaper that describes the situation and proposes a remedy. Share rubrics with students to enable them to see how to best achieve good results on this task.
  10. Ask volunteers to show and explain their work. Sum it all up: the Great Depression was a very difficult time for many Canadians who suffered because of loss of income, poverty and Prairie drought.


Evaluate the student worksheets for accuracy and completeness. Evaluate the individual cartoons or letters using the Evaluation rubric for letter or the Evaluation rubric for cartoon.


For the human side of the Great Depression, send students to the Canadian Encyclopedia online through the website and to the Library and Archives Canada online digital collections.