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A historical black-and-white photo of the Frank, Alberta
Calgary Guardian

A History the Frank Slide Could Never Bury

In just a few seconds, the landslide wiped out 3 kilometres of Frank and killed hundreds of townsfolk

Like many of the towns in Crowsnest Pass, Frank was created for coal mining. The residents of Frank lived and breathed coal, literally. The thing is, the town of Frank was built right under Turtle Mountain.

One of the mountain’s biggest features was looking like a turtle. While this was impressive, so was the dangerous looking mass of stone sticking out of the mountain’s top. Building below Turtle Mountain was never a good idea.

The Blackfoot and Kutenai refer to Turtle Mountain as “the mountain that moves.” They even refused to camp at the foot of the mountain. But apparently that wasn’t enough of a red flag for Frank’s settlers. 

At 4:10 AM on April 29, 1903, this chunk of stone came crashing down from the peak of Turtle Mountain. The mass of rock weighed 120 million tons. In terms of weight, that’s about 600,000 blue whales.

This rockslide destroyed the eastern outskirts of the town. Thankfully, most of the town remained untouched. Even still, there were several casualties. 

In total, the rockslide known as the Frank Slide took the lives of at least 70 people. This includes Lillian Clark’s father, mother, and six siblings, all of whom were crushed in their family cottage.

At the time, Lillian worked at a boarding house. For the first time, her mother gave her permission to sleep in town on the night before the Frank Slide. Being away from home that night, Lillian narrowly avoided certain death. 

The rockslide also claimed the lives of three miners that decided to take their lunch outside of the mine. One of these miners was Lillian’s father. The other miners working that morning were trapped inside the mine by rubble.

Approximately 13 hours after the rockslide, the miners were able to dig their way out. One of the surviving miners was Big Charlie, a mine horse.

However, Big Charlie wasn’t rescued until a month after the disaster. The four legged steed was able to survive by chewing on mine timbers and drinking contaminated water.

Unfortunately, Big Charlie’s legacy was short-lived after his rescuers overfed him with oats and brandy. At least he died happy, right?

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