A time of scarcity.

While kids growing up in outport Newfoundland today have probably never heard the saying “long hungry month of march”, it was not uncommon seventy or even sixty years ago. I was born in 1939, world war II had just started in Europe, and as part of the then British Empire, many young men from the island nation, volunteered to serve in the trenches. “The dirty thirties” were coming to an end and there was renewed hope all around. Ten years earlier however, things were very different. Newfoundland, like the rest of North America, had been plunged into a depression the likes of which none had seen before.


As was the custom, the fish merchants gave credit to the fishermen in the spring, who then sold them their catch in the fall. Even after this “squarin’ -up time”, as it was locally known, most fishermen were still indebted to the merchant. Many however were able to get some credit to help them through the winter, but during the dirty thirties, the majority had to go on government relief that paid a paltry six cents per day. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Women and children scoured the hills and marshes for berries which would be made into jam and stored away for the winter. During the fishing season, women cut out cod tongues and cod’s heads which would be preserved by salting. Small fish known as Caplin came ashore in abundance, usually in June, and could be taken in buckets. These too would be collected and dried as food for the winter when the land would be covered by snow and the water was ice.

Those too were the days of big families with some households having as many as ten, twelve or more children. The majority would have no income, until April when they would once more venture out on the water, and people had to manage on what was gathered in the summer and fall. Most families grew potatoes and some a few other vegetables, but by the time March rolled along, food supplies were getting low, and everything had to be rationed. Some had nothing left at all and so had to depend on the meagre funds doled out by the government of the day. It’s no wonder people spoke of ‘the long hungry month of March”!

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  • PR Mace on Mar 16, 2011

    I can see why March was a long terrible month. Interesting fact from your history. Enjoyed the read.

  • Judy Sheldon on Mar 16, 2011

    Moses, you should think of compiling your stories. Times have changed so much and people have no idea what their ancestors lived through.

  • CHIPMUNK on Mar 17, 2011

    great article

  • tanny15 on Mar 17, 2011

    nice share

  • tishontherock@hotmail.com on Mar 17, 2011

    Mose I remember my parents speak of this time in their day. very interesting piece oh History.Thanks for sharing

  • Ruby Hawk on Mar 17, 2011

    It was a hard time for everyone here. I wonder how we would manage if times get as hard. We might get the chance to find out if things continue as they are.

  • Melody SJAL on Mar 18, 2011

    I have heard of that saying too,but don\’t understand why it\’s being said, thanks for sharing this info.

  • Dreamy777 on Apr 3, 2011

    great share

  • shermaen on Jun 1, 2011

    tnx for sharing the history.
    well, in here starvation is whole year round

  • beingwell on Jul 26, 2011

    Good work here!

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