BATES, EDWARD JACK, schoolboy; b. 12 Oct. 1925 in Eston, Sask., son of Edward Albert Bates, a butcher, and Rose Slatter; d. 4 Dec. 1933 between Purdue and Biggar, Sask.
Jackie Bates was the only child of British immigrants Ted and Rose Bates. His London-born father had come to Canada before World War I; after failing as a farmer in the Kindersley district of Saskatchewan, he took up the butcher’s trade in the small village of Glidden in 1921. His mother, originally from Rotherfield in Sussex, immigrated in 1924, the year of her marriage to Ted. Young Jackie was raised in Glidden and attended the local school.
In 1932, with the country firmly in the grip of the Great Depression, the Bateses were forced to close their shop. They moved to Vancouver, where Jackie continued his schooling while his father opened a corner grocery store. This business failed as well. Having exhausted their resources, the family applied for relief but were turned down because they did not meet the residency requirement. They would have to go back to Saskatchewan if they wanted help.
In November 1933, thanks to support from the Salvation Army, the Bateses arrived in Saskatoon by train and once again applied for relief. This time they were given temporary assistance on the understanding that they would return to Glidden. Too ashamed to face their home community – for many, relief carried a stigma of failure and disgrace – they hatched a desperate plan. Rose sold some belongings, and with the money Ted rented a car from a local service station. He told the garage owner they were going north to look at farmland in the Rosthern district. Instead, on 3 December, they headed west along Highway 14 towards Biggar. Jackie sat in the back reading comic books.
At nightfall Ted pulled off the road halfway between Purdue and Biggar and parked next to a shed in the isolated Avalon schoolyard. The boy’s parents then got in the back seat under blankets with their son, while the car was left running. Ted and Rose had decided to end their lives that night, confident that the carbon monoxide from the exhaust would kill all three of them in their sleep. When they woke hours later, it was only Jackie who had succumbed.
The next morning a farmer discovered the couple, groggy, with their dead son between them, and he contacted the local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Bateses were taken to Biggar, where the police, upon hearing their confessions, charged them with murdering their son. Eight-year-old Jackie was buried a few days later in the Madison cemetery following a service in the Glidden community hall attended by many of his former schoolmates. The village not only covered his funeral expenses through a special fund-raising drive, but also sent letters to Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett* and Saskatchewan premier James Thomas Milton Anderson* blaming the relief system for the family’s plight.
A coroner’s inquest into Jackie’s death was held at Biggar in mid December. It was followed by a preliminary hearing at which the boy’s parents were committed to trial. By this time the people of Glidden, the very folk the Bateses had been too embarrassed to face, had secured the services of a Saskatoon lawyer to represent the couple. At the trial in Wilkie in March 1934, the defence called only one witness, the Bateses’ former family doctor, who testified that Jackie had had a heart murmur and an enlarged thymus gland. The provincial pathologist had earlier reported that he had died from carbon-monoxide poisoning. The doctor’s testimony raised doubts about the cause of death in the minds of the jurors, and the Bateses were found not guilty.
After their acquittal they returned briefly to Glidden before moving to Rosetown, where Ted worked as a butcher until his death in 1954. Rose then went back to England and died there in 1978. Today Jackie Bates lies in an unmarked grave, a victim of the Great Depression and his parents’ pride.
Battleford Court House (Battleford, Sask.), R. v. Edward and Rose Bates, 15 Dec. 1933, preliminary hearing transcript. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Headquarters (Ottawa), 33-HQ-681-F-10 (Edward Bates murder file). [W. A.] Waiser, Saskatchewan: a new history (Calgary, 2005).