The place not to be the morning of April 29, 1903 was the town of Frank, Alberta. Frank was a burgeoning mining town of 600 nestled in the Crowsnest Pass in the shadow of the massive Turtle Mountain which rises over 7,000 feet above town. At 4:10 AM that fateful morning the town and the mountain became one as a 70-million ton wedge of overhanging limestone broke away, shattered into large boulders, crashed 300 feet down the mountain across the valley and 500 feet up the another mountain on the other side of the valley and is known as the Frank Slide.
In a brief 100 ear-shattering, bone-jarring seconds, 76 people lost their lives, 23 were injured and 17 miners were trapped inside a mine shaft behind over 100 feet of rubble and stone.
In 1901, excavation began and a drift mine was sunk deep into the bowels of Turtle Mountain to mine the massive deposits of coal beneath the eastern slope of the mountain. The mine contained huge rooms (called ‘stopes’) separated by gigantic 12-meter (40-foot) long pillars which contained walk-ways and chutes. By October of the following year, the stopes burrowed over 700 meters (2,300 feet) along the eastern vein of coal. Tremors became a regular occurrence in the mines, especially in the early morning hours, and the miners became quite accustomed to the shaking. Besides, the tremors made their work a lot easier. By April of 1903, the mine was almost ‘self-operating’ in that all the miners had to do was to shovel up the coal as it fell from the ceiling.
Just below the mine entrance, the Old Man River ran along the base of the mountain. Beyond and to the left lay the town of Frank, divided by Gold Creek which flowed in from the east across the valley and joined the Old Man River below the mine entrance. The Canadian Pacific Railroad ran somewhat parallel to the River and passing Frank on the eastern side; the mine spur line branched off from the CPR, running west of Frank, across Gold Creek and the Old Man River and up to the mine entrance, completing the triangle framing downtown Frank. A well-worn path ran between the river and railroad, joining Frank to Pincher Creek to the south and Blairmore to the north. Coming down from the valley far to the east was the Frank Grassy Mountain Railroad. Soon, over 100 men would arrive in Frank to complete the extension joining the Frank Grassy Mountain Railway (FGMR) to the CPR.
The Indians of the area avoided Turtle Mountain. To them, it was the “Mountain that Walked”. Their legend would soon become all too real.
Joe Chapman and his group of 16 miners went to work the midnight shift that fateful night in April. The mine shaft, for some time, had been experiencing mysterious crackling and rumbling. The miners ignored a major warning sign. When Turtle Mountain “walked” that night, the miners found themselves 100 feet from the mine mouth behind a wall of rock. Luckily none of them were hurt. They calmly weighed their options. Could they dig their way out to the mouth? Seeping water suggested that they might be digging towards water, which was not good. Could they crawl up an air shaft located 4000 feet further inside the mountain? The shaft was filled with limestone boulders. Could they dig a new shaft up through the soft coal? They dug for over 12 hours and early in the morning of April 30 they broke through into the dawn light and were safe.
But what of their friends and neighbors in town?
During the tunneling, one of the miners broke his leg. He was lifted from the shaft on a stretcher. His first vision of the town showed that his home had been destroyed. He was to find out soon that his wife and three children had perished.
Contrary to popular belief, the town was not buried by the slide but 75% of it was affected in some way. Of the 66-100 people unaccounted for and presumed dead (the official record states 76), only 12 bodies were recovered. Among the known dead were 21 children.
There were some miraculous escapes that night. One of the most spectacular was that of Marion Leitch, a baby at the time. She was thrown from her crushed home on to another boulder which, in turn, crushed a neighbor’s home and came to rest. The little girl was found sitting on top of the boulder in a pile of hay which had been ripped out of a mine barn by the boulder. Marion went on to live a full life away from Frank.
The town of Frank has rebuilt from the rubble. Some 6000 people now live within the shadow of the “Mountain that Walks”. But none will ever forget the Frank Slide.
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with help from http://www3.sympatico.ca/goweezer/canada/frank.htm