Sunday, October 28, 2012

Backyard Bucket List: Frank Slide


It is almost Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year.  I love everything about this season - the mystery, the costumes, the candy, and especially the spooky stories!  As I write this, I have Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" on in the background: a soundtrack for my creative writing.  It is inspiring me to write a post that also has a spooky undertone, rife with tragedy, mystery, and even some urban legends!  I have chosen the topic of Frank Slide - one of Alberta's most interesting and mysterious sites.

Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass of southern Alberta.

Back in April of 1903, in a valley in the Crowsnest Pass of the Rocky Mountains, the residents of the small mining town of Frank lay sleeping peacefully.  Suddenly, the ground began to shake and rumble.  Before the townsfolk could rise or even realize what was happening, they were wiped from existence as half a mountain crushed much of the town of Frank off the map.  Very few people survived this massive rock slide, and 70 to 120 people lost their lives.

It was 4:10 a.m. when the mountain collapsed, and it only took 100 seconds for the rock slide to destroy a town, obliterate a mine, crush a railway, and turn a river into a lake.  Workers running a train on the CPR rail heard the first rocks fall, and pushed the train to maximum speed in order to escape with their lives.  Many weren't so lucky - three coal miners were killed as they stood outside the coal mine, all workers inside a power plant at the base of the mountain were killed, nearly 50 transient workers camped out near the river were crushed, and the residents of the eastern portion of Frank were buried by the massive rocks.  Of the 76 townspeople trapped beneath the rocks, only 18 bodies were ever recovered.

The devastation left over from the rock slide - the town of Frank lies buried.

Today, the devastation is as clear as ever.  The rocks are so large and heavy, weighing multiple tons, that it makes them problematic and even impossible to move. After the initial slide, the CPR rail was cleared with much difficulty, and in 1924, rocks were moved to permit the construction of a highway.  Otherwise, the boulders still rest where they landed, and it is possible to visit the ruined mountain by journeying to the Frank Slide Interpretive Center.  The Center provides an excellent view of both Turtle Mountain and the panorama of the rock slide's destruction, as well as providing visitors with an excellent museum containing the history of the slide.  It is $10.00 for one adult day pass, $5.00 for youths, and children are free. Visit their website here.

At the Frank Slide Interpretive Center, learning about the tragedy at Turtle Mountain

Not all tales of the Frank Slide are depressing .  Seventeen coal miners were buried within the coal mine when the rock slide occurred, but had the sense of mind to dig through a seam of coal that led to the surface.  It took the men all of the night and into the next afternoon to dig themselves out, and by the time they surfaced, only three were strong enough to wield a tool.  However, all 17 survived.

My favorite tale from the Frank Slide Interpretive Center was that of Charlie the Horse.  It is a blend of victory and tragedy.  Poor Charlie the mine cart horse was trapped inside Turtle Mountain when the rocks rained down.  No one gave a second thought to a poor mine horse when they were understandably devastated by the loss of their families and friends.  On May 30, the mine was reopened for business, and shocked workers discovered an emaciated Charlie, who had survived in the mine for a month by drinking seepage water off of the mine walls, and chewing on wooden coal carts and timbers.  Unfortunately for Charlie, whose digestive system was a touch delicate at this time in his life, celebrated a bit too hard with his rescuers, and died shortly after his return home from an overdose of brandy and oats.

A bird's eye view of the sheer force of Frank Slide, courtesy of web.cuug.ab.ca

There are two other great stories that go along with Frank Slide.  The first is that of "Frankie Slide", who was rumored to be one of the most miraculous survivors of the rock slide.  Baby Frankie (which is what she is known as because no one ever knew her real name) was said to have slid from harm's way in a basket (or on a bale of hay, or in her dead mother's arms, depending the version you hear).  However, this is an urban legend - no such baby slid to safety in that fashion. Frank Slide was a blend of two true stories: that of Gladys Ennis, a two-year-old found lying stunned in a mud puddle, and Marian Leitch, who was knocked out of the way into a pile of hay while her home was demolished.

The other legend is that of the bank. So many times people have commented on the "buried treasure" of Frank Slide, which I must reiterate is a total lie.  Legends abound that there is up to $500,000 buried somewhere under the ruins.  This is silly in two ways: one, no bank in a small mining town in 1903 would have that sum of money inside of it, and two, the bank was not in the path of the rock slide, and remained untouched in its original location until 1911, when it was torn down by human hands.  Sorry, treasure hunters!  Better cancel that order on the backhoe you ordered!

Joey models what is left of Turtle Mountain, which might not be done sliding...

Despite the fact that there is no buried treasure to be found, that doesn't mean you shouldn't go check out Frank Slide.  It is a humbling, sobering, and at the same time, majestic experience that is not to be missed!

3 comments:

  1. Great article! The interptretive center is beautiful too and the scenery around the area especially Beauvais lake with its trails .

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    1. I agree with you about Beauvais Lake - it is gorgeous! I have mixed feelings about the campground there, though, as I was chased by a moose down the roller coaster trail when I was 12 years old! Hiking is great around there, I will admit.

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  2. I think you had enjoyed a lot during your trip. I will plan to visit this place with my friends in short time.

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