The Fehr Family Photo

It became an iconic photo – one that would symbolize the plight of millions during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Following is the story of a couple who decided to recreate those conditions in 2018, testing once again the generosity and spirit of Saskatchewan. They were not disappointed.

Also attached is a link to the article from Bill Waiser in his History Matters Series.


No money, no credit cards: Couple relies on kindness of Sask. strangers for 1,200 km journey

Depression-era photo inspires trip through Saskatchewan back roads and small towns

Bart and Lisa Campbell embarked on a 1,200 kilometre journey through Saskatchewan towns in a 1926 Chevrolet. The couple left with no money or credit cards, but relied on the kindness of strangers to help them get through the 10-day trip. (My Epic Journey/Facebook)

It all started with a slightly grainy black-and-white photo, a photo that’s a stark, gripping depiction of poverty would make it famous in Canadian history.

Bart Campbell, of Medicine Hat, Alta., was reading a book to his elderly neighbour about the Great Depression. But he kept coming back to that photo of the Saskatchewan family, broke, poor and hungry as they stood on the streets of Edmonton.

Five of seven children are barefoot, the mother clutches the baby, and the father stands at the centre, sober-faced and surrounded by his brood.

A photo of Abram and Elizabeth Fehr and their seven children would end up becoming famous in Canadian history, a depiction of the hardships of the Great Depression. (My Epic Journey/Facebook)

Campbell still can’t understand how or why that photo inspired his trip through Saskatchewan back roads, one that would open his eyes to the “incredible” kindness of the province’s people.

“I wonder in time, if that answer will come,” he said. “This journey, it’s a little surreal. It’s bonded so many people together. There’s been so many families touched by it. Sometimes I wonder if there was a greater force to create it.

Depression-era photo

For the past few years, Campbell has thought about recreating a journey taken by the family in the photo. In the 1930s, the Fehrs had left their farm in Peace River, Alta. to return home to Saskatchewan. Without money or food to feed their seven children, they scraped to get by and had to beg for food lest they starve.

Campbell felt the need to recreate their journey, even going so far as to find the same 1926 Chevrolet car they drove. He and his wife, Lisa, left their home in Medicine Hat for Saskatchewan earlier this month, with little more than a suitcase of clothes and a tank of gas.

In the midst of the 1,200 kilometre journey through Saskatchewan roads and small towns, the couple relied on the kindness of strangers for places to sleep, and food to eat, working odd jobs along the way and asking for help.

Along the way, Bart Campbell took part in odd jobs for gas and food money and for the experience of taking part in something different. (My Epic Journey/Facebook)

“Being a proud person like Saskatchewan people are, you fight your own battles and then here you are, just having to just ask,” he said, adding it was the most difficult thing he’s ever done.

“I can only imagine how humbling it would have been for the people of the Depression that were hard-working people that just tried their hardest and couldn’t succeed, no matter what.”

But each place they arrived, people would come to their rescue.

Bart and Lisa Campbell try an insight into the Fehr family’s life, cramming seven children into the 1926 Chevrolet, with no air conditioner or heater, to see what the journey might be like. (My Epic Journey/Facebook)

An ex-farmer would strike up a conversation in a diner, and then offer his place for the couple to stay. A young woman with her three-year-old son and husband would see their sign and stop, giving them a little money so they could buy a meal.

In his stop at Elbow, Sask., he felt compelled to put himself in the Fehr family’s shoes, and to beg for food. As he walked down the streets, he noticed a woman just coming onto her porch.

He stored up the courage and asked if she had some eggs. Without question, she gave him his eggs, and once he told her what he was doing, she gave him fresh baked banana bread as well.

“I just wish everybody could firsthand experience what we’ve gone through, every single day, three meals a day, for seven or eight days. It’s just been overwhelming,” he said.

Abe, Helen, Agatha and Betty are four of the remaining people alive from the original Fehr family photo, taken in the 1930s in the midst of the Depression. They reunited for yet another picture with the same model of car, driven by Bart Campbell. (Photo submitted by the Fehr family)

At the end of his journey, the couple reunited with the Fehrs in Warman, Sask., a family gathering brought together not by a wedding or a funeral, but through the power of a photo.

Jim Fehr, grandson of the couple in the photo, described it as heartwarming to see what Campbell had done. He and his wife Doreen described the Campbells as “special people,” who have opened their eyes to the hardships faced by those in the Great Depression.

No money or credit cards to turn to — only human kindness.

“That’s the way my grandmother and grandfather came through,” said Fehr.

Jim and Doreen Fehr and their grandchildren recreate a photo made famous by Jim’s grandparents. (Photo submitted by Fehr family)

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