The Depression and drought of the early 1930s forced many farmers from the southern areas of the province to move to northern Saskatchewan's forest fringe areas, which were being opened for farming. Municipalities and provincial programs responsible for relief payments also encouraged urban dwellers to move north to establish farms. The peak years of migration were in 1931 and 1932, when more than 25,000 people settled on undeveloped land controlled by the Department of Natural Resources. Being unfamiliar with northern farming conditions, most settlers were not able to survive without assistance. The Northern Settlers Re-Establishment Branch was initiated under the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs in 1935 to consolidate assistance programs administered by several departments. The objective of the branch was to establish self-supporting agricultural communities by controlling and aiding land settlement. The program extended credit for breaking land, building farms, and buying livestock; direct relief was provided to permit recipients to improve their land for subsistence farming. Some relief projects to develop community infrastructure, such as group building of schools and homes, roads and drainage systems, were organized. The Branch purchased caterpillar tractors and other equipment for breaking land and building roads, and organized agricultural education programs. Gideon Matte served as commissioner of this branch. Field staff duties included administering the Local Improvement Districts in the north, thereby providing similar functions to those of municipalities in the south. The branch was renamed the Northern Areas Branch in 1940, and became the Local Improvement Districts Branch of the Department of Municipal Affairs in 1942.