Essential Canadian Books — Ten Lost Years 1929-1939: Memories of Canadians Who Survived The Depression

Oscar Peterson: Canadian

“You Look Good To Me”;
‘Oscar Peterson: And the Bassists [Live In Montreux]’ (1977)


Ten Lost Years 1929-1939:
Memories of Canadians Who Survived The Depression


Barry Broadfoot (1973): In 1972, Broadfoot, a Canadian reporter working for the Vancouver Sun, quit his job and drove across Canada finding people who had lived through the Great Depression.

‘Ten Lost Years‘ is an historical compilation of hundreds of heart wrenching first-person stories of starvation, murder and astonishing stories of survival told by farmers, widows, waitresses, hoboes and desperate families willing to do almost anything just to live another day.

Each single one of the hundreds of stories is simply overwhelming on their own, but one after the other they create an awe-inspiring testimony to the strength and absolute willpower these people had to have in order to survive what has to be the greatest series of natural disasters human beings have had to cope with, maybe only comparable to The Black Plague, HIV/AIDS and The Spanish Flu. ‘Ten Long Years’ sold 300,000 copies — a remarkable number in Canada — and spawned a successful stage play that ran for several years.

Broadfoot was a man who just got up one afternoon in 1972 and walked out of a successful seventeen year career as a daily reporter to travel across this massive country in a shit-box Volkswagen with his typewriter and tape recorder. He conducted hundreds and hundreds of interviews with the survivors, mostly in bars over glasses of beer or in family kitchens. The Canadians he spoke with had lived through The Spanish Flu, the “Dirty Thirties”, the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War without ever really talking about their experiences with anyone.

“I said “the hell with it,”” he later said in an interview with his former paper. “I put 17 years of inter-office memos into a shoebox, liberated the typewriter and walked out.”

Ten Lost Years was his first book, he went on to write eight more: “Six War Years” (1975), “The Pioneer Years” (1976), “Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame” (1977), “My Own Years” (1983), “The Veterans’ Years” (1985), “The Immigrant Years” (1986), “Next-Year Country” (1988) and “Ordinary Russians” 1989. Through all of his book Broadfoot gave ordinary Canadians a voice in our own history.

Broadfoot was the recipient of numerous awards and honours including the Order of Canada, which is the highest award Canada has to offer to our citizens. In 1998 Broadfoot suffered a stroke which left him blind and impaired his memory. He passed away in 2003 in Nanaimo, British Columbia.


Excerpt One “The Killing Of A Hobo”: (page 138) “I saw one man kill another man one night in a jungle at Kamloops in British Columbia. It wasn’t about food or money either, let me tell you.

“One fellow said Roosevelt was president of the United States and another said no, it was Mr. Coolidge. One thing led to another, they always do. The Roosevelt man grabbed the other fellow and threw him and he fell over and his head hit the iron arrangement we had to keep our pots over the fire. It appeared to me the iron point end went into his ear. Well anyway, it killed him. Or so we thought. Certainly ‘peared dead to me.

“The Roosevelt man took him up to the tracks and soon a freight came along and squished his head to nothing, so where was your evidence? I reckon 50 men saw that killing, if no one saw it. It happened all the time and I never heard of anyone getting hanged for that. I’ll freely grant you that, mister.”


Excerpt Two “We Ate Not Too Bad”: (page 217) “You ask me why I worked in a filling station for $5.50 a week, working 55 to 60 hours a week? Simple.

“That was 10 cents an hour. With 10 cents my mother could buy more than a pound of hamburger. A quart of milk. About three pounds of dried beans or nearly two pounds of rice or two loaves of bread. A pound of peanut butter for 20 cents, good stuff with real peanuts in it.

“I know these costs. They are burned into my brain.

“That $5.50 kept my mother and sister and me from starving. We didn’t do too well in the other departments, medicine and movies and clothes, but we ate not too bad.”


Excerpt Three “Because They Could Live Off The Land”: (page 299) “About 1931 when the federal government pushed through emergency assistance payments, the city family got $15 a month and the country family got $10 a month because they’d likely have a cow and a pig and a big garden — and the Indian family got $5 a month because they could live off the land.

“Indians haven’t lived off the land since the days of Custer, but you couldn’t tell the bastards in Ottawa that. I honestly think they didn’t consider Indians as people.”


Excerpt Four “Farmers Did Funny Things”: (page 42) “Dust would cover up the fence posts and the farmers would come along with a wagon load of more poles and string another fence, on top of the first. I could never figure out why they did this because there were no cattle wandering at large, they had all been slaughtered long ago or taken to the community pastures. Farmers did funny things in those days. They still do, but everybody was just a little bit loco in that country then.”


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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in more than fifty places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
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14 Responses to Essential Canadian Books — Ten Lost Years 1929-1939: Memories of Canadians Who Survived The Depression

  1. Queen Minx says:

    Have you got this book???

  2. Gabriel... says:

    Yeah. I’ve had it forever. It’s a first edition so I think it used to belong to my parents.

    “…So we had all these crusts from the bread, and the word got around Vancouver that Alice, that’s me, was putting them in brown bags and giving them out at the door on the lane. I am not telling you any lie when I say I have seen as many as 100 men lined up there about 7 o’clock, closing time, waiting for the crusts. These were starving men, and I’m telling the truth when I say I’ve seen men pass out, just fall over.”

    It is the most intense book I’ve ever… not just read, but even heard of being written. Every page, every freaking story, just rips your heart out.

  3. Queen Minx says:

    That’s what I was thinking … just those few excerpts above weren’t enough, I wanted to know more … each one could be a book in itself.

  4. Pingback: Greatest Hits: Canadian Books -- 'The Invasion Of Canada: 1812-1813' « …cultural snafu.

  5. daryl Bissillion says:

    I am trying to track down the music from the play based on the book. I was hoping someone here might be able to tell me where to get my hands on some recordings.

  6. Gabriel... says:

    Give me a couple of days and I may be able to help you…

  7. Ada says:

    “Wind at my Back” Canadian TV series took excepts from the book and made it into a series. Is it available on DVD?

  8. skylark says:

    Thanks for that clip of Oscar… I’m a big fan. Tomorrow, in the presence of the Queen, a statue of Oscar Peterson will be unveiled just outside the NAC in Ottawa.

  9. Gabriel says:

    Hi skylark… anytime I can expose someone to the brilliance of Oscar, even to a fellow fan, I feel like I’ve done my good deed for the month. I’d really like to be there for the unveiling… I waved to the Queen once before, way back in the early 90’s as she was driven past my friends and I on the corner of Rideau and King Edward. I was actually the only one who waved using his whole hand.

  10. Pingback: Life got so bad during the Great Depression people were actually fooled into thinking Corn Flakes had flavour | cultural sn:afu

  11. yourothermotherhere says:

    I think instead of clean, formulized history books, or maybe in addition to them, school children should be required to read books such as this that show history at the end user level. My grandmother gave birth to 11 children, 2 sets of twins, all at home on a farm. They were very poor, but with growing their own food and preserving it, cutting wood for cooking and heating, they made it with only one death from pneumonia. I could have listened to my grandparents tell of those days whenever they decided to talk about them, but they didn’t, not too often anyway.

    I will read the books of Barry Broadfoot. Thank you for blogging about him and his works.

  12. Road Noises says:

    Hi, Thanks for posting this in 2012! I am writing a blog about my personal gardening experiences this year 2015 – I loved Ten Lost Years and also have my parents to thank for brining it home.

  13. Pingback: Patience (or lack thereof) | Road Noises

  14. Pingback: Ten Of My Favourite Books Because Twenty Would Be Just Annoying | …really cold milk.

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