In the early years of the Great Depression, thousands of unemployed
homeless transients settled into Vancouver's "hobo
jungle." The jungle operated as a distinct community, in which
goods were exchanged and shared directly, without benefit of currency.
The organization of life was immediate and consensual, conducted in the
absence of capital accumulation. But as the transients moved from the
jungles to the city, they made innumerable demands on Vancouver's
Relief Department, consuming financial resources at a rate that
threatened the city with bankruptcy. In response, the municipality
instituted a card-control system-no longer offering relief
recipients currency to do with as they chose. It also implemented new
investigative and assessment procedures, including office spies, to
weed out organizational inefficiencies. McCallum argues that,
threatened by this "ungovernable society,"
Vancouver's Relief Department employed Fordist management methods
that ultimately stripped the transients of their individuality.
Vancouver's municipal government entered into contractual
relationships with dozens of private businesses, tendering bids for
meals in much the same fashion as for printing jobs and construction
projects. As a result, entrepreneurs clamoured to get their share of
the state spending. With the emergence of work relief camps, the
provincial government harnessed the only currency that homeless men
possessed: their muscle. This new form of unfree labour aided the
province in developing its tourist driven "image" economy,
as well as facilitating the transportation of natural resources and
manufactured goods. It also led eventually to the most significant
protest movement of 1930s' Canada, the On-to-Ottawa Trek.
Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine explores the connections
between the history of transiency and that of Fordism, offering a new
interpretation of the economic and political crises that wracked Canada
in the early years of the Great Depression.
Todd McCallum is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Dalhousie University.
List of Tables vii Preface ix INTRODUCTION: From Fordlandia to Hobohemia Homeless Men and the Relief Industry 3 A Strike, a Conference, and a Riot December 1929 to January 1930 27 "Useless Knowledge" About Jungle Life The Utopian Practices of Hobohemia, 1930-32 69 The Crucifixion Machine and the Quest for Efficiency The Relief Industry, Administration 115 The Racket in Tickets and the Traffic in Lives The Relief Industry, Consumption 155 "Work Without Wages," or, Paving the Way for Economic Development The Relief Industry, Production 195 CONCLUSION: Vancouver, "The Mecca of the Surplus" 243 Notes 251 Bibliography 289 Index 301