Canadian Life of the 1920s
After the First World War, Canada began to create a new national identity, independent of Britain. Despite some initial growing pains, including economic volatility and labor unrest, Canada transitioned from war to peace and prosperity. Canada granted women suffrage, launched its first radio broadcast, won multiple gold medals in the 1920 and 1928 Olympics and reveled in the high life of the Jazz Age. All in all, the decade was a roller coaster ride of political, cultural and social change.
1 Politics and the Aftermath of War
In 1920, Canada joined the League of Nations. A new conservative prime minister, Arthur Meighen, took office, but was unseated by Mackenzie King, a liberal who governed Canada for most of the decade. Women gained the right to vote but struggled with discrimination and unfair wages. Men retained the advantage for decent jobs. With the war over, Canadian military forces discharged troops who needed employment. In 1929, women achieved personhood status, allowing them to serve in parliament. By decade's end, Canada was a diverse, peaceful nation with a hopeful future.
2 Technology, Communication and Transportation
Airplanes, automobiles, movies, radio and jazz music were all novelties in the 1920s. It was an exciting time of technological innovation. Canada introduced its first radio stations in 1922, establishing a Canadian presence on the airwaves and an alternative to American broadcasts. The world's first documentary film, "Nanook of the North," shot in Quebec, was a box office hit. In 1928, the Canadian ship St. Roch became the first vessel to circumnavigate North America. Meanwhile, Canada's demand for cars steadily increased, expanding the automobile industry, along with highway construction and related businesses.
3 Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties
Throughout North America, the 1920s were known as the Roaring Twenties. The era became synonymous with Prohibition, a time when the United States banned alcohol and its illicit consumption flourished. American mobster Al Capone notoriously smuggled liquor to Chicago from distilleries in Saskatchewan. He used underground tunnels in Moose Jaw to evade police. In 1924, two Montréal businessmen started trafficking whiskey across the border, making tidy profits. Their company soon merged with Seagram and Sons to create the world’s largest distillery. In 1929, a Canadian rum-running ship sank after being destroyed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Its surviving crew members were jailed. The U.S. government later apologized for the incident and paid fines to Canada, but the bootlegging party was over. Prohibition officially ended in 1933.
4 A Turbulent Economy
While the black market economy thrived, the real economy in Canada had its ups and downs. In 1920, a new federal sales tax brought in revenue, yet postwar joblessness stood at 15 percent. Prairie farmers suffered from a crash in the wheat market. The Maritime provinces lagged behind the rest of Canada economically, so they organized a movement to advance their interests. By mid-decade, though, Canada's economy as a whole boomed. Exports of Canadian products -- such as wheat and timber -- increased in volume and fetched better market prices. The 1929 stock market crash brought this prosperity to an abrupt halt, as world economies collapsed in the Great Depression.
- 1 The Canadian Encyclopedia: Timeline: 1920 to 1929
- 2 Canadian War Museum: Canada Between the Wars 1919-1939
- 3 Canada Science and Technology Museum: In Search of the Canadian Car: History Timeline 1920
- 4 CBC Radio-Canada: Our History: 1920-1939
- 5 Canadian Geographic: History of Cross-Border Smuggling