The 1930s were characterized by poverty and insecurity. French-speaking Montrealers were affected more severely than their English-speaking counterparts, and workers were hit harder than teachers and bureaucrats.
Some found hope in religion. The Depression also brought about a revival of the nationalist movement, with economic hardship fanning ethnic tensions.
Attitudes towards Jews attested to outright intolerance in the form of covert but definite discrimination in English-speaking institutions, anti-Semitic declarations by certain French-speaking leaders and attacks on Jewish businesses. Nevertheless, this phenomenon was tempered by the fair-mindedness of part of the population and the press, and by cooperation among ethnic groups in the trade unions. Participants in public debates endeavoured to propose solutions to this interminable crisis.
Communist and Socialist voices were also heard. For the most part, leftist parties were popular among Jews and English-Canadian intellectuals, but had trouble making inroads with the French-speaking population. This was mainly due to a limited understanding of the latter’s specificity and aspirations, coupled with fierce opposition from the Catholic Church. Fascists and a Nazi-inspired movement occupied the opposite end of the political spectrum: these fringe elements attracted a lot of attention with their noisy demonstrations.
The strongest reactions to the Depression in French-speaking circles came from nationalist movements and a group from the École sociale populaire. They proferred a tradionalist view of the French-Canadian nation, but also explored innovative solutions such as nationalizing public utilities, especially electricity.