No visit to the Crowsnest Pass can be complete without a visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. Open year round, it’s many interactive exhibits showcase the great slide of 1903, its impact on the town of Frank and the surrounding area, and the current monitoring of Turtle Mountain.
The Frank Slide was designated a Provincial Historical Resource in 1977. In 1985 the provincial government opened the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, which underwent a major exhibit upgrading in 2008. Hours of operation, admission fees, special events and much more can be found on the Centre’s own website (external site).
The Frank Slide. At 4:10am on April 29, 1903, 74 million tonnes (30 million cubic metres) of limestone fell from the east face of Turtle Mountain and covered approximately three square kilometres of the valley floor. The slide dammed the Crowsnest River and formed a small lake, covered 2km of the Canadian Pacific Railway, destroyed most of the coal mine’s surface infrastructure, and buried seven houses on the outskirts of the sleeping town of Frank, as well as several rural buildings. Most of the estimated 100 individuals in the path of the slide were killed, with some surprising exceptions, including three young girls. Fernie Watkins was found unhurt amongst the debris; Marion Leitch, 15 months old, was thrown from her house to safety on a pile of hay; Gladys Ennis, 27 months old, was found choking in a pile of mud by her mother (Gladys died in 1995 at age 94, the last survivor of the slide).
Warnings were telegraphed westward to Cranbrook, but the eastern lines had been severed so two railway brakemen set out across the rockslide to flag down the Spokane Flyer. Only Sid Choquette made it across, but he was in time to flag down the train. Seventeen men trapped in the Frank mine escaped by tunneling through virgin coal to the surface, which was easier than trying to clear the debris at the entrance. It took them 14 hours to dig through 6 metres (20 ft) of coal and 2.7 metres (9 ft) of limestone boulders. A mine horse named Charlie survived alone in the mine for a month, but succumbed shortly after being found by investigating miners without ever seeing daylight.
The town was evacuated, but people were soon allowed to return and both the mine and the railway were back in operation within a month. Only twelve bodies were recovered from the debris at the time of the slide. In 1922, a road construction crew uncovered the remains of seven more people.
Today, visitors from all over the world marvel at the impressive Frank Slide. Highway 3 runs right through it, and pulloffs with interpretive panels provide information to the casual visitor. The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre sits atop a bluff with commanding views of the slide, and is a must-visit venue. A short easy trail through the slide itself starts and ends at the Centre. A more adventurous and demanding trail takes you to the summit of Turtle Mountain for exceptional views of the Frank Slide and the surrounding valley.