The Small Businessman in Saskatchewan 1919-1939
This study was undertaken to explore the attitudes and actions of the small businessman in Saskatchewan, as represented by independent merchants and operators of retail service businesses. While many generalizations have been made about the petite bourgeoisie in the history of the Canadian prairies, little detailed research has been done. This thesis is an attempt at understanding the petit-bourgeois mentality of small businessmen in Saskatchewan and how that motivated their actions in the years between the first and second world wars. The principal sources for research on this topic were those trade journals still extant, the records of the Retail Merchants' Association in Saskatchewan, and records of boards of trade in the province. The 1920s were a time of transition within the retail distribution industry. New technology, the introduction of corporate merchandising, and fluctuations in general economic conditions created considerable uncertainty for independent merchants. The severe conditions during the Depression in the 1930s only exacerbated an already difficult situation. The effect of these developments was to weaken the traditional attitude of self-sufficiency among small businessmen. Initially they attempted internal reforms within their respective trades to resolve the problems they encountered. The encroachments of mail order houses and chain stores into the Saskatchewan market tended to undermine those efforts, so that by the early 1930s independent merchants were preoccupied with exposing the "abuses" of big business. In the mid- and late-thirties they turned to demands for greater government control over business and the economy as a whole in order to ensure their independent livelihood. As economic conditions further deteriorated many small businessmen also took a more active part in the political and economic protests prevalent in western Canada at the time. The response of small businessmen in Saskatchewan to the challenges they faced in the inter-war period was in many ways typical of the petite bourgeoisie. Threatened by increased competition from corporate retailers, they were forced to abandom their traditional conservatism and to call for government intervention and regional economic reforms as part of their struggle against the big business interests.