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Frank Rockslide - April 29, 1903

The Frank rockslide occurred in the coal-mining town of Frank, located in the Crowsnest Pass area. The community was created in September 1901 when the mine opened. Frank was located in the district of Alberta in the Northwest Territories, which, along with other districts, became part of the province of Alberta in 1905.

Photograph of a valley at Frank, Alberta, completely filled with debris from the slide, 1911

Source

Frank slide of 1903, taken in 1911

The rockslide took place shortly after 4:00 a.m. on the morning of April 29, 1903. Millions of tons of limestone rock slid down off the northeast face of Turtle Mountain. The rock covered the entrance to the mine and much of the town in less than two minutes. The slide buried everything in its path. Rocks crossed the valley and landed 120 metres (400 feet) up the opposite slope. Parts of the town escaped the slide, but the limestone covered almost 2 square kilometres (1.2 square miles) to an average depth of 13.5 metres (45 feet).

Photograph showing part of the town of Frank, Alberta, and the east end of the slide, 1911

Source

View of part of the town of Frank, Alberta, and the east part of the slide, photograph taken in 1911

Seventeen miners working on the overnight shift inside the mine were trapped underground. As rocks covered the mine entrance, they were forced to dig out through 6 metres (20 feet) of coal and 2.7 metres (9 feet) of limestone boulders. The effort took them 13 hours. Three mine workers who were working above ground were killed by the slide. In total, about 70 people were killed out of a population of approximately 600. Only 12 bodies were actually recovered and the list of the dead remains incomplete.

The three rail lines in town were covered by debris from the slide. A brakeman scrambled over the fallen boulders to alert an incoming train, the Spokane Flyer, of the slide, saving lives in the process.

Three days after the slide, Premier Haultain visited the town of Frank. When he learned of fissures in the mountain that had not been there before the slide, the premier ordered the town evacuated. That order was cancelled on May 10th, after geologists from the Geological Survey of Canada examined the site. Rail lines were rebuilt within three weeks and the mine reopened a month after the slide, although it closed for good in 1918.

Theories abound as to what caused the rockslide at Frank. Geologists think it was likely a mix of factors, including the unstable structure of Turtle Mountain; mining practices; and weather that had recently included both heat and freezing. Could it happen again? That is always a possibility.