When Ruby Davies graduated from Bateman's high school in 1966, there was only seven other students who joined her. It was the last graduating class for the school. For the next few years, the school eliminated one grade after another until only Grade 9 was left for high school classes. When Grade 9 was eventually moved to Gravelbourg, the elementary grades continued to use the school until 1996. Then it was all over. The school was closed forever. In the fall of 2000, the last resident left. And by 2002, most of the abandoned homes were torn down. The ghosts had won. It was their town now.
"I was in Bateman in August of 2000 and it was pretty sad to drive up and down the street and see everything gone," says Davies, quite aware even decades ago that Saskatchewan's beleaguered economic climate would eventually doom Bateman.
Davies' father, Les Coote, who in 2002 resides in nearby Gravelbourg, was Bateman's last mayor, or overseer as they label the small town position in rural Saskatchewan. Coote moved to Bateman with his family in 1935, and from 1947 to 1972, he owned a gas station. When he closed his business the town was already deep into its long, painful decline and he and his wife moved to Gravelbourg, even taking their house with them.
"It's still like that in almost every small town in Saskatchewan, mainly because the rail lines are being pulled and the grain elevators are being knocked down," , says Coote, who also ran the post office for 16 years.
Bateman, 26 kilometres north of Highway 13 in southwest Saskatchewan, was named after Jim Bateman, who came to the area with his family 1908. He quickly took possession of a quarter section of land on the bank of nearby Notukeu Creek. Bateman opened up the first post office in August, 1911. His daughter, Lydia, was sworn in as assistant post mistress and drove up to St. Boswells, 10 kilometres northwest of Bateman with her father to pick up the town's first mail bag.
During its pioneer years and times of greatest prosperity, Bateman, which had a peak population of more than 300 citizens in the late 1920s, was the focal point for the small family grain farmers in the region. The town once boasted four grain elevators, a bank, a theatre, restaurants, two gas stations, two churches, three grocery stores, skating and curling rink, and two implement businesses. Bateman even had its own power plant and street light system.
"Bateman was an aggressive and active place at one time. We even had an outdoor theatre where people from miles around would come to see the shows," says Coote.
Former residents especially remember the generosity and community spirit of Bateman. When tragedy or misfortune would strike a family, the community would immediately rally together to help, notes Coote. However, most former residents agree that one name is synonomous with the community spirit of Bateman, and that is "Doc" Harold Woodside; a kindly and devoted country doctor whose indomitable spirit warmed the hearts of residents for almost three decades. During the Depression, Doc travelled year-round, often by buggy and sleigh, to farms in every corner of the district, almost always without pay.
"My mother was (part of) a triplet, and Doc was there to bring them in," says local farmer Ross Armson. "There were no incubators then; Doc watched over them by laying them on the door of an old wood stove."
In 1939, after 20 years of serving Bateman, Doc received his just reward - he won $50,000 in the Irish Sweepstakes. True to his nature, every child in town received candy and, before moving to Moose Jaw that same year, he used his winnings to send Bateman's 100 students to Regina by train to see the King and Queen of England.
"When he went oversees to collect his winnings, it was touch and go he'd be able to catch a boat back home before the Second World War was declared," recalls Coote.
In 1996, as the town's population had dwindled to just a handful of diehard citizens, a reunion was held. The event attracted almost 900 current and former residents. It was a grand and sad occasion. Many considered it a final farewell for the town. All the stores and businesses were gone. The school was closed. And the last of the grain elevators was waiting for the wrecking ball.
But faithful locales in the Bateman region, insist the end is not here yet - close maybe, but certainly not absolute. Bateman's post office is still open part-time. There is a volunteer fire hall, and the United Church still holds funerals and a fall supper. The Bateman Lions Club is also hanging on. And for those intrigued with pioneer prairie memories, the Bateman Historical Museum is still open on request.
"It's really sad. There is absolutely nothing now to keep people here," says Coote of his former town. "But it really doesn't matter what direction you look, Bateman or St. Boswells, all the small towns in Saskatchewan are struggling."
If anyone is near Bateman during their travels, members of the Bateman Historical Museum say the museum is open on request. Appointments can be made by calling (306) 648-3548.
|Land Location||SW S22 T12 R06 W3M|
|Rural Municipality||104 - Gravelbourg|
|GPS Location||50° 0' 36", -106° 44' 55"|