In 1900, American entrepreneurs Sam Gebo and Henry Frank developed the first of many coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass, in the base of Turtle Mountain. In May that year the first buildings were erected in the new community of Frank, located on flat land between the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and the mine. The town’s grand opening on September 10, 1901 was an all-day event that included sporting competitions (with engraved medals for the victors), tours of the mine, a banquet, and a dance. Two special trains brought in the guests, and the gourmet food (including a ton of ice cream). Henry Frank presided over the event, which was attended by the premier Frederick W. A. G. Haultain and his public works minister. Frank became the first incorporated town in the Pass and by 1903 served 1000 people with two dozen businesses and services, a two-story brick school and a regional post office.
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. Contrary to popular legend, the Frank Slide did not destroy the town of Frank, although seven houses, a ranch, some commercial buildings, the coal mine’s surface infrastructure and 2km of the Canadian Pacific Railway were in its direct path and were all destroyed, and about 90 people are thought to have been killed. 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.
Boom and Bust. The town of Frank continued to grow, and in 1905 a new residential subdivision was developed north of the tracks to keep pace with mine production, a new zinc smelter, and a new three-story hotel (Rocky Mountains Sanatorium) close to a cold sulphur spring. However a period of decline soon followed. Due to market forces the zinc smelter never operated, and was converted to an ice skating arena. Fears of a second slide led to a government-ordered closure of the south townsite in 1911, and over the next several years its buildings were torn down or moved. The 1905 subdivision remained, but Frank ceased to be an important centre after the mine closed in 1918. The Sanatorium, converted to a military hospital in 1917, was torn down in 1928 after a period of abandonment.
Today, Frank is a quiet residential community of about 200 people, with few hints of its promising past. It is the smallest of the five towns that amalgamated into the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in 1979. (Oh, and an improved recipe for Colonel Sanders’ KFC gravy was developed in the kitchen of the Turtle Mountain Inn around 1960.)
The Frank Slide was designated a Provincial Historical Resource in 1977, and in 1985 the provincial government opened the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. Visitors to Frank can take a short, self-guided Historical Walking Tour or include the community on the Heritage Driving Route.