This Week in Peterborough: 1932


The historic Turnbull Building, Peterborough, as it is today.  The building has something of a tragic history, although not in the context of 1932.  (Image Source)

At the end of last week’s post, we wondered if 1932 would bring better news to the people of Peterborough.  The answer to that, as we will discover, was a blunt “no.”  In fact, things were arguably worse by that year’s end, as even the somewhat mis-placed optimism of 1931 had dissipated in the face of the Great Depression’s continued drain on employment, financial stability, and morale.  So read on, for that story, ominous news from abroad, and — on the bright side — a party to take everybody’s mind off things.


Peterborough Examiner, November 24th, 1932.

The big piece of international news this week 83 years ago this week was full of dark foreshadowing, involving as it did the recently-held elections for the German Reichstag.  Paul von Hindenburg had been elected President of Germany earlier in the 1932, while Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party won the most seats, obliging von Hindenburg to offer Hitler the post of Chancellor.  However, while the Nazis had the most seats, they did not have a majority, and Hitler was unable to form a coalition government (in something of an understatement, the November 24th Peterborough Examiner noted Hitler’s “record of continual opposition to parliamentary government”).  On November 24th, von Hindenburg withdrew the offer of Chancellorship, and began to search for other candidates.

Unfortunately — very unfortunately — a replacement Chancellor could not be found, and in January of 1933 von Hindenburg did indeed appoint Adolf Hitler.  Hitler became President in 1934, when von Hindenburg died, and Germany’s transition to one-party rule was pretty much complete.

In Canada, meanwhile, the focus was on the tough times, as the Great Depression continued to wreak its havoc.  This week in 1934, it was the railways that were causing problems; thousands of railwaymen were unemployed, and as a Senate commission to investigate the matter was told, “hundreds of coaches and locomotives were lying idle in railway yards with the people of Canada paying interest on the money that went into their [maintenance]” (Peterborough Examiner, November 24th, 1932).  One of the main issues was that the Canadian National Railway had gone seriously into debt during the 1920s acquiring small struggling railways across the country — when the Depression hit, that debt load became too much to bear.


The Yonge Street Mission, Toronto, at some point during the Depression. (Image Source)

As you may recall, a year previously Peterborough had felt the effects of the railway difficulties, when the city’s passenger service to Lakefield was cancelled, although in fairness there were other factors (e.g. the growth of automobile usage) at work in that situation as well.

In any case, Senator — and former Prime Minster — Arthur Meighen described the situation in November of 1933 as “at once the most emergent tremendous, imperative and peremptory that has ever faced parliament,” as quoted in the November 24th newspaper.  He warned, however, that stern measures had to be taken to rectify the railways’ financial difficulties, and that these could not be carried out without putting even more men in the unemployment lines.

There was also a new political movement abroad in the land, at least partially as a result of the dire economic conditions.  On November 25th, the Examiner reported that the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation, the fore-runners to today’s NDP, was looking to expand into Ontario (the CCF had been founded in Alberta in 1931).  Said the newspaper:

“Those behind the new movement declare that its chief purpose is to make fundamental changes in the directing of society in such a way that human beings and their needs will have precedence over all others.”


1930s-era CCF election poster. (Image Source)

Affiliated with the United Farmers, of whom we have already read in this series (the two groups would quickly merge, in fact), the CCF was fiercely left-wing in its politics, and quickly gained significant support from Depression-weary Canadians.  The movement would win seven seats in its federal election, in 1935, but its heyday was to come in the 1940s.  We will certainly hear more of it in this series.

One of the ways in which governments, both local and provincial, sought to find work for people during the Depression was highway construction, and this week in 1934 saw Peterborough County making some moves in that direction.  On November 25th, the County Council passed two by-laws, one requesting that the Province of Ontario take over Lansdowne Street west of the Otonabee River all the way to Highway 28, and the other authorizing the Provincial Government to finish a 12-mile stretch of Highway 7 between Peterborough and Norwood.  However, the next day the Council voted on the by-laws again, rejecting the provincial takeover of Lansdowne Street while reaffirming the Highway 7 project.

The reason for the Council’s about-face?  Peterborough County would be required to chip in a certain percentage of the cost of any highway construction within its confines, and the Councillors were hoping that a future provincial election would put in a government that would reduce that contribution.  As Asphodel’s Reeve Rork Ferguson, quoted in the November 26th Examiner, put it:

“‘A few days ago we were so careful with the people’s money that we wouldn’t have our pictures taken.  Yesterday the council passed a resolution to spend thousands of the citizens’ money.'”

And therein lay the horrible catch-22 of the Depression: no jobs, and no money to create them.


The Turnbull Building in days of yore — note the additional storey, built when Eaton’s was located there, and since removed. (Image Source)

As a bright spot amidst the doom and gloom, Peterborians took time out this week in 1932 for a party — a dance held on November 25th to raise funds in support of local baseball teams.  The party took place at the Turnbull building at George and Simcoe Streets, and even here, the shadow of the Depression can be discerned; the Turnbull Building had been the home of the city’s Eaton’s department store since 1927, but that had closed earlier in the year, leaving the space available for use as a dance hall (the building would not, fortunately, be vacant for long — Zeller’s opened there in 1934, and remained in the Turnbull until 2004).

In any event, the party was judged a grand success, as the next day’s Examiner reported:

“Looked like pretty nearly every young fellow in the city and his gal were out there on the floor dancing at the big baseball hop and draw affair last night… A huge crowd attended and everyone seemed to be having a bee-yutiful time.  Good floor, smart music, plenty of valuable prizes, and the whole thing very efficiently handled.”

In other sports happenings, it was actually a fairly quiet week.  The Peterborough Hockey Club, preparing for the 1932-33 season, held its annual meeting, and elected Charles E. Curtis as president.  “It would be difficult to name a man more capable for this position or one more familiar with the game locally,” said the November 25th Examiner, approvingly.

And there we will leave matters for 1932.  Next week, of course, we will be in early December of 1933 to see how things stood then, but in the meantime you can get caught up on what was happening in Peterborough in this week back in 1880.  Thank you for reading!



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