The Back-to-the-City Movement

The Back-to-the-City Movement


Go into any city or town in Canada to-day, and try to rent a house in which to live, and you will find that houses are as scarce as Hebrews in Aberdeenshire. The people of our towns and cities are huddled together like herrings in a box. They are glad to pay $50 monthly to a landlord for a respectable six-roomed house on a respectable street. Many of them, unable to rent houses, have had to pay exorbitant prices for houses. A respectable house in one of our cities to-day costs at least $5,000. The average purchaser of such a house is able to put down just a small payment; by the time he has paid the balance and the 7 per cent interest charge his little home will have cost him $6,500.

After he has solved the housing problem if he ever solves it, Mr. City Dweller has several other problems to tackle. He finds that milk, butter, eggs, flour, vegetables, shoes, clothes, meat, sugar;-- in fact everything he and his family need, are distressingly costly. He must keep up appearances at all costs, and he cannot stint himself and his family at the table. His wages disappear like morning dew in the sunshine. He despairs of saving, and worries secretly as the cost of living steadily rises. The average salaried man in our cities to-day is living in a state of genteel poverty, and, being a salaried man, and living in this enlightened age, he protests but mildly and trusts in Providence and the Government.

The population of the world has not increased during the past three years. The population of Canada has not increased rapidly during the past three years. Then why should cities in all parts of the world be over-crowded. Why should the cities of Canada be so badly overcrowded? An answer is not hard to find. It is that the war started a great movement from rural districts to urban centres. Our people, especially the young and and those not rooted securely to the soil, have been seared by the excitement of the war. They want crowds, the roar of city traffic, and the stuffy twilight of moving picture shows. Moreover, our young people are not so ready to accept responsibility as they once were. They would rather draw good wages for a short day’s work in the city than don overalls and build a farm home out in the country. Like the Romans of old, they are content with “bread and the circus.” This, then, is the real reason why our cities are overcrowded.

And what will grow out of such a condition of affairs? I answer without hesitation: “Nation-wide poverty, unemployment and discontent.” This country is an agricultural country, and the farmer is already supporting too many urban middlemen and parasites. The prices are high, but the burden he is now carrying is just a little more than he can bear. The result is that he is preparing to protect himself by curtailing his activities and expenditures. He will not build a new house or barn if he has to buy lumber at prohibitive prices and pay carpenters, plasters and plumber prohibitive wages. He will not milk cows if he cannot find men to help him to do the milking. He will not produce hogs if they are not profitable. He will not grow crops that require a great deal of labour. He will curtail his borrowing. Think of what will happen if the farmers of this country do these things. There will be a greater shortage of milk and farm products than exists at present, which means that the salaried man in the city will have to pay more for his milk, butter, eggs, cheese, flour, beef and pork. The manufacturer who sells good to the farmer is not buying new machinery and equipment, because he is practising economy, and curtailing his farming activities. The banks will find that there is a poor demand for their money. Everybody will suffer, from the banker to the shoemaker. Last of all, the worker in the city will suffer, because more men will drift in from the stagnant country, until there are more men in our cities than there are jobs. When the farmer starts to economize, he economizes in earnest. Over night he decides that he will not continue to produce hogs or milk. That means that he buys less equipment from some city manufacturer. The manufacturer begins to get anxious as his sales decrease, and finally he is obliged to decrease his staff of workers. As soon as this happens, unemployment becomes general and wages fall rapidly, for a score of men looking diligently for work in a city makes all the surplus of labour that is necessary to bring wages down.

It seems to me that this condition of affairs will come to pass in the near future unless the people of our cities come to their senses. We cannot defy natural laws indefinitely, and we are certainly defying natural laws at the present time. We will save ourselves from economic stagnation, unemployment and high living costs if we can get people to join the ranks of the producers. And, speaking in a general sense, the farmers are the only real producers in Canada; the manufacturer of commodities, other than those produced on the farms of this country, could not exist for long if agricultural development ceased. What we need in Canada to-day, and we need it more than anything else just at present, is a Back-to-the-Land Movement. The Back-to-the-City Movement, which is now in full swing, spells disaster for this country if it continues long enough.

The business men of this country, the farmers themselves, the press and our educational institutions, should put forth their best efforts to get people, especially young people, to stay on the land. If nothing is done, the problem will be solved, of course, but it will be a raw solution--the starving of the city dwellers and wide-spread stagnation of industry. Nobody wants this sort of thing to happen but history tells us very plainly that it has happened whenever the producers of a country are outnumbered by middlemen.

By Donald Stewart


Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture