The Great Depression's impact was felt around the world. International trade plummeted by two thirds. Canadian manufacturing and primary industries such as logging, mining and agriculture, were hit particularly hard. Joblessness soared to 30% in Canada, and up to 33% in some countries. This period saw advances in new technologies, such as the invention of FM radio by Edward Armstrong, and the first transatlantic flight by Pan Am. Galvin Manufacturing Corporation introduced the first car radio in 1930, which became standard equipment by 1950. Economic hardship fueled the rise of right wing parties across the world. In Germany, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party rose to power under Adolf Hitler, followed by Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939. Canadians made and purchased fewer cars, and many car owners could not afford gasoline. Nonetheless, approximately 760,000 cars were sold in Canada in this decade.
The GMC Buick Custom was built by Smith Body Works Ltd. in Toronto using the chassis of a 1931 McLaughlin-Buick.
Win Barron was one of the first hosts of the CBC quiz show "Front Page Challenge", which ran from 1957 to 1995.
Photo: Canada of Science and Technology Museum 1977.0278
The Canadian production of the Frontenac is so successful it becomes independent of Durant Motors, its American parent company. The new Canadian company that emerges in 1931 is called Dominion Motors Ltd.
To help make cars seem more Canadian, manufacturers would sometimes name them after Canadian historical figures. The Frontenac was named after Count Frontenac, who was the governor of New France (1672-1682 and 1689-1698). The 1960 Ford Frontenac was another car named after Count Frontenac.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum, de Bondt Collection
The streamlined form of the Chrysler Airflow marks a radical shift in car design.
The cars rounded nose and features, which made it more aerodynamic, stood out in the era of box shaped cars. The bold attempt to release the Airflow took a financial toll on Chrysler as the public was very slow to adopt the new radical design. However, the rounded, curved look would become a popular trend for automobiles in the decades to come.
Canada Science and Technology Museum, deBondt Collection.
The La Salle is introduced in the US in 1927 as the low-end of the Cadillac line. It is the first automobile to be designed by a stylist rather than an engineer or mechanic.
The La Salle in the Canada of Science and Technology Museum's collection is one of only several hundred that were built annually in Oshawa between 1927 and 1936, the last year of Canadian production. The last year of American production was 1940.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 2000.0087
In 1936, Packard designs the 120 to be competitive in the mid-priced, eight-cylinder car market.
Packard was generally considered to be a luxury brand. The car was priced at around $1,000, and was designed to keep Packard in business during the Great Depression. The yearly family income averaged around $1,300, and so the 120 appealed mostly to upper middle-class families.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1971.0436
Two McLaughlin-Buicks are manufactured for the Royal Tour in 1939. They include several custom features including an intercom for the driver and passengers to communicate. One of the cars is re-used in 1986 for Prince Charles and Princess Diana's Canadian Tour.
Another McLaughlin-Buick was custom built in 1936 for King Edward VIII. He also ordered a McLaughlin-Buick Roadmaster for the woman he loved, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. That car is the one that he drove to the Prime Minister's residence to announce his abdication of the throne. He gave up the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson, a twice-married American socialite, causing a great scandal.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum, CN Collection, Image CN0003780
In The News
The Great Depression puts many Canadians out of work and, by 1933, unemployment is at 30%.
Initially, the regions hit hardest by the Depression were those focused on industrial production, such as Southern Ontario. In the mid-1930s, a severe drought struck the Prairie provinces and decimated agricultural production. Many farmers relied on government support to survive, while others abandoned their farms entirely and moved to the cities. Quebec, because of its diverse industrial economy, experienced heavy unemployment but was less affected than the west. A sudden economic collapse was also less detrimental to the Maritime provinces, since the region had already been in economic decline since the 1920s.
Glenbow Archives, NC-6-13068a
The Hindenburg dirigible explodes over Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey prior to landing. It had just finished its first transatlantic flight between Europe and the United States.
Experts are still debating what caused the Hindenburg to burst into flames, and why it burned so quickly. The dirigible was inflated with hydrogen, and was powered by two Daimler-Benz engines. It took under 40 seconds for the Hindenburg to become completely engulfed in flames and crash. There were 36 passengers and 61 crew members on board. Thirteen passengers and 22 crew died, in addition to one crew member on the ground.
United States Navy
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth unveil the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
The 1939 visit was the first visit of a reigning monarch to Canada. With the threat of another war looming in Europe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth travelled from the East Coast to the West Coast by train, and in specially outfitted McLaughlin-Buick Royal Tour Cars. They were accompanied on the entire 29-day tour by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Photo: 19 May 1939
Library and Archives Canada/PA-211009
On September 1, 1939, Britain and France declare war on Germany. One week later, Canada also declares war.
Approximately 1.1 million Canadians served in the Second World War. More than 40% of Canadian men between the ages of 18 and 45 volunteered for service and enlisted. Women also played an important role in the war—over 45,000 were in active service and supported the war through administrative and other roles. The first Canadian troops sailed for Britain on December 10, 1939. By the end of the war in 1945, more than 45,000 Canadians had been killed in battle.
Glenbow Archives, NA-3091-73
During the Second World War, Canada stops producing civilian products such as cars, appliances and clothing, and focuses on military production.
The declaration of war in 1939 caused Canadian industrial production to expand into new areas. By 1944, Canadians had produced 14,000 armoured personnel carriers, 4,000 aircraft, and 16,000 artillery pieces.
Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd
Canada Science and Technology Museum, deBondt Collection
Boeing introduces the first stewardesses on their flights.
In an effort to make air travel more comfortable, safe, and convenient, Boeing Air Transport introduces stewardesses on their flights, with one assigned to each flight. Stewardesses have to be registered nurses.
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 2002-2948
The average cost of a new car is $600.
The average annual salary for 1930 was $1,000.00, meaning that a new car would have cost more than half of a person's annual income. A new tire, priced at $3.69, would have also cost more than a person's average daily income which was $2.50 a day.
National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-176455
Amelia Earhart disappears over the Pacific.
Amelia Earhart disappeared while attempting to be the first person to fly around the widest point of the world, the Equator—a challenging trip of some 29,000 miles (46,700 km).
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 86-10744
The Queen Elizabeth Way is inaugurated to commemorate the Queen's visit to Canada in 1939. It is Canada's first four-lane highway.
Today the QEW, or the Queen-E as it is known, is one of Ontario's busiest highways, with an average of 200,000 cars travelling on it each day.
Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum, CN Collection, CN005903