The hockey and curling arena in Unity, Saskatchewan, is a hub of the community, like most arenas throughout the province.
However, the town of just over 2,500 located 195km west of Saskatoon has a very unique arena.
For decades it has been more than just sheets of ice where friendships were forged and victories earned, it also served as a home to a colony of big brown bats.
“Over the last few months people in the community started telling stories,” Unity Mayor Sharon Del Frari said. “One fellow, he said it must’ve been 50 years ago, he was curling in the curling rink and there were bats, a couple of bats that had fallen.”
The attic of the arena went unchecked for years, but in 2020, when the building was scheduled for renovations, the town contacted DTS Roofing and Bat Removal services to take a look in the arena’s loft.
What DTS owner Dave Pentecost immediately found on arrival was nearly unbelievable.
“There was just piles and piles of guano (bat droppings) absolutely everywhere,” Pentecost explained. “I think altogether we pulled about 400 or 500 pounds of bat guano out of the building.”
The sheer volume of droppings were certainly a sign of what lay ahead for Pentecost and his crew.
“There was just groups and groups and groups of bats. It was overwhelming, all the bats that were in this building,” he said.
Over the next month, the DTS team cleared out the hundreds of pounds of bat guano as well as the colony of nearly 840 bats that had left it there.
The bats, who were in the midst of hibernation, were transported to Living Sky Rehabilitation in Saskatoon.
The weaker of the bats were nursed back to health at Living Sky while the rest were sent to a temperature-controlled space at the U of S to continue their hibernation.
“It was a little bit overwhelming to say the least,” Living Sky Executive Director Jan Shadick said.
Over the next three months, Shadick and her team of roughly 45 volunteers rotated the bats from the university to Living Sky to make sure that they maintained a proper hibernation weight.
Then on May 12, the bats were released in Unity, having several bat houses to now call home.
“They shed a lot of tears of joy and happiness,” Shadick said. “(We’re thankful) that these bats were finally free.”
The effort displayed to safely removed and rehabilitate the bats had Shadick fielding calls from all over.
“The bat community is really quite wonderful, and it’s very tight-knit,” Shadick explained. “We had phone calls and emails from people who work with bats in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and it even made it to the bat community in Norway and Sweden. So, it was an international story, because nobody had ever done this before, nobody had ever experienced that.”
Shadick wasn’t the only member of the huge undertaking who received calls on how the situation was handled.
“Once the news broke, Conservation of Canada called us and wanted to pick my brain,” Pentecost said. “They said it’s the largest colony, in their careers, that they’ve ever heard of.”