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The 1930s – The Depression

Black and white photo of a building with an older model truck and three older model cars.

Okanagan Centre, 1930s

Throughout the community, the belles looked out for one another and they helped each other and their families.

The Great Depression began October 1929 with the stock market crash and continued until 1939 in some regions. During this period, Canadians suffered through the worst economic downturn in the country’s history. In British Columbia, one symbol of the Depression was the apple seller, an unemployed man with a basket of apples trying to sell enough to feed himself and his family.

Black and white photo of a wooden house with laundry outside. A large wooden building is next to the house and a railway track runs in front of both buildings.

Winfield packinghouse, 1930s

In smaller communities, women worked together to ensure that no family went hungry. Once relief payments were available through the government, the applebox belles of the Oyama packinghouses developed a strategy of working the minimum number of weeks then requesting to be laid off so that other women could also work the number of weeks to qualify for relief payments.

During the Depression, some men applied for work in packing line positions but most packinghouses continued to employ only women as sorters and packers, paying them a lower wage.

Black and white photo of about twenty men and women working inside an old building. In the foreground is a raised row of boxes filled with apples and labelled OK Brand. Shooks of wood are stacked beneath. Men are looking at apples in boxes or at the photographer. In the centre, women are packing apples along each side of two central conveyor belts. To the right, a man is building an apple box.

Vernon Fruit Union packinghouse, Oyama, 1931