The economic depression of the 1930s coincided with severe drought and crop failures in the prairie provinces. Saskatchewan was one of the areas hit hardest by the “Dirty Thirties.”
Many families lost everything. It was not uncommon to travel past abandoned farms with fence posts and old farm equipment half-buried in dust - that which the bank had not already seized. Some dried-out farmers gave up and moved north, or to British Columbia. Those who stayed contended with the ongoing drought, dust storms, crop rust, and swarms of grasshoppers.
A dust storm always began with an ominous patch of grey on the horizon. Mothers would run, clutching their children, into the house. Sometimes these storms raged for two or three days.
Ingenious methods of conservation and rationing were devised - bathwater was used by the whole family, then used to scrub the floor, and finally thrown out into the garden. Flour sacks and sugar sacks were used to make clothing, curtains and bedding.
There was also more cooperation amongst farmers in the 30s, as everyone had to pull together to survive. Relief trains would frequently arrive from Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia stacked high with food and household items such as apples, clothing, and salted cod and herring, which would last through the summer.
In 1931, a Finnish immigrant named Tom Sukanen began constructing a large ship in the middle of the dusty Saskatchewan prairie - raising quite a few eyebrows in the process.
The vast western prairies are a land of myths and legends. But Saskatchewan is real, the Great Depression was real, Tom Sukanen was real, and this legend is true.
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