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Hatton

Its early promise doomed by fires, drought, erosion and a rerouted highway

Hatton Main StreetHatton street

As with all prosperity-seeking settlers in the early 20th century, pioneers in the southwest part of Saskatchewan were lured to the "new country" with free quarter-sections of land for homesteads, given to them by a desperate federal government wanting to populate the undiscovered west.

Settlers had only to agree to live on their land for six months of the year, and break a minimum of 10 acres a year.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway branched out into the remote, desolate land, the whistle stop was originally called Forres. But in 1913, citizens of the village, nearly 30 kilometres northwest of Maple Creek, agreed to change the name of the community to Hatton to avoid confusion with a Manitoba place called Forest.

As more and more people moved into the vast and flat region, eager businessmen seized an opportunity. By 1913 there was a post office and general store, the latter owned by Allie Auger, who also opened up a lumber yard. Soon to follow was Jim Mitchell's implement business, Norman Robson's hotel - which eventually was also the home of the Merchant's Bank, and two schools - one German and one English. As well, Hatton became a stopping point for grain shipments and was to become the site for nine elevators.

Seven years after its official inception, Hatton was a booming town with a population of 800, with a downtown core consisting of two banks, three restaurants, two barbershops, six livery barns, a theatre and another three lumberyards. The town even had its own policemen - Hugh McLeod and Dan Hanton - and a telephone office.

But Hatton's prosperity was to be short-lived, and on a windy Sunday morning in 1921, a terrible fire destroyed more than 35 homes and businesses, marking the beginning of a long and difficult decline for the town.

Many residents chose to find greener pastures after the fire, but there were many diehards who chose to stay in an attempt to rebuild their town. But in 1928 there was more bad news. The CPR built a branch line north to Golden Prairie, creating a closer and more convenient stop for farmers in the region north of Hatton. One by one, the elevators closed. In 1952, the last one was destroyed by fire.

Many people and businesses moved to Golden Prairie. Then the world stock market crash came in 1929, followed by the Depression years with never-ending droughts, sand storms and erosion. If that was not enough for the beleaguered folks of Hatton, the main highway in the region was relocated away from the community to its present day location, 10 kilometres away and now known as Hwy. 1 or the Trans-Canada Highway.

The writing was certainly on the wall for Hatton - it was becoming a ghost town.

Although the droughts subsided and the general living conditions improved in the late 1930s and 1940s, citizens were continuing to leave the community for larger and more prosperous centres, partly because they were easier to get to with the increasing number of automobiles and the advent of improved modern roadways.

Hatton's last general store, owned by George Sept, closed in 1965. Three years later, with the death of Mathilda Loch, the post office closed, marking the unofficial end of Hatton.

By the turn of the 21st century, the former townsite of what was Hatton is a lonely and haunting place. There is little evidence that a town of 800 people existed, and for a brief while, prospered. There are now only a few scattered shacks and the old school - now a private residence - where Hatton once was. Not even a faint outline of the town's streets can be seen.