Depression Era Comic strips in the Lethbridge Herald
The tradition of reading the Sunday morning ‘funnies’ still brings laughter to people all over Canada every week, and perhaps an antidote to the news of the day.
The comic strip “Bringing Up Father” by George McManus brought laughter into the homes of Lethbridge Herald readers during some of the most dismal years in recent history: the Great Depression. The comic featured the social blunders and misadventures of an upper middle-class family, with the grumpy and mischievous father, Jiggs, the main character, alongside his wife Maggie and their daughter Nora. The plot usually began with Jiggs getting caught in a lie and Maggie throwing a rolling pin or dishes at him.
“Bringing Up Father” explored familiar but mundane conflicts that many upper-middle class families and couples would have experienced. The themes during the 1930s, however, rarely referenced economic plight, not to mention the global Great Depression – especially in 1931 and 1932, the two worst years of the Great Depression in Canada. During this time, unemployment rates in the country never dropped below twelve percent. The people of Lethbridge were caught up in the Depression along with the rest of Canada.
The local population averaged 13,500 persons during the Depression years. There were about 1,000 unemployed persons on relief in Lethbridge by June 3, 1931; reaching as high as 2,043 in 1934. Delegations of unemployed appeared constantly before city council looking for assistance. Single men were housed in barns at the Exhibition Grounds; representatives of the Unemployed Association complained they were fed only one meal a day (later raised to two meals a day).
Although the “Bringing Up Father” comic seemed to ignore the Great Depression, by doing so McManus allowed readers to temporarily escape from the very real hardships. You can view “Bringing Up Father” comic strips at the Lethbridge Herald online database or stop into the Archives at the Galt where you can ask to see them. Examples from 1930 and 1938 are also included on the Galt blog at www.galtmuseum.blogspot.ca; look for the March 20, 2013 entry.