It was a bad fall in Maple Ridge in 1929. The Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company, local pride and powerhouse, had tumbled into insolvency as its financing evaporated.
By the middle of December, the mill at Port Hammond, one of the largest in British Columbia, was closed until the times could improve.
The Depression hit Maple Ridge fast, and it hit some very hard.
And so began our most infamous round of joblessness and homelessness that sent men around the country looking for work while women and children were left – sometimes housed and sometimes not – in their original communities.
It was not the first of such difficulties and it certainly would not be the last.
In our earliest days, homelessness was the result of there being no homes.
Newcomers to the area had to live in some kind of tent until they could build a cabin to live in while they built a house.
Only people of great means could afford to be less self-reliant and hire others to do their building for them.
Land was cheap in terms of initial cash layout, but huge efforts were required to clear and make it useful, which took away time and resources from housebuilding. Many men lived alone in a shack for years until they had a sufficient house built for their wife and children to join them.
Long-time resident Joan Neal told the story of her family’s life in a tent for 18 months in 1926-27 on the property where the brick post office building is today on 224th Street.
They had been living in worksite housing, but it burned down and they needed all the money they had to build a new one.
So they tented on rented ground until their house was built.
At one point, the family was quarantined for scarlet fever so poor Dad had to sleep in a smaller tent alone so that he could continue to work.
In addition to the change in land value, a major fact of life that has changed from those days is the loss of the family farm.
Those farms were great absorbers of the displaced and the hard to accommodate. Local census documents from 1891, 1901 and 1911 show that most farming families housed additional extended family or unrelated people as labour and to help out their original families.
This was particularly true of those with developmental disabilities who needed simple work and some supervision that is easy to provide on a farm, but not so in other settings.
Families in difficult economic circumstances with children they were struggling to feed could send some of those children to live with a childless aunt and uncle, for example, to help with farm and household chores.
Today we face another round of job-related challenges and homelessness caused by automation and soaring land prices.
Many of the solutions of earlier days are simply no longer available to us.
Val Patenaude is director of the
Maple Ridge Museum.