In Alberta’s southwestern corner, not far from the American and British Colombian border, lies the town of Frank. A mining town, it was established in 1901 at the Crowsnest Pass at the foot of Turtle Mountain, because coal was discovered here. As mining boomed, the town’s population grew, reaching over 600 in 1903.
The Blackfoot people which inhabited this area, were known to refer to Turtle Mountain as the “mountain that moves”. They refused to camp near the mountain because they feared that one day it would come crashing down.
They were right.
Early morning, April 23rd, 1903, a train was slowly pulling out of the Turtle Mountain mine and heading towards the town site when the train crew heard a deafening rumble. The train’s engineer, realizing what was probably happening, set the train throttle to full speed, and managed to zip to safety by crossing the Crowsnest River. His quick thinking helped him escape the incoming carnage that was about to wreak havoc upon the town of Frank.
What came next lasted for approximately 2 minutes according to witnesses. A massive landslide occurred, due to the entire eastern side of Turtle Mountain breaking off. The massive rocks that slid down mountain face fell with such speed and power that they crossed the valley below, and went so far that they made contact with the mountains on the other side.
The falling rocks traveled at speeds of 100 kilometres an hour, which caused a deafening roar that could be heard from over 200 kilometres away.
Over 30 million cubic metres of limestone, which weighed over 110 million tonnes broke off of Turtle Mountain. This section was over 1 kilometre wide, and 500 metres in height, with a depth of 150 metres.
While the majority of the town survived, the slide buried buildings on the outskirts of Frank. Seven businesses and houses were destroyed. The cemetery was buried, along with a 2 kilometre stretch of road. The entire mine, and all the mining buildings were destroyed, along with a stretch of railway track that went from the river towards the mine.
The final death count was between 70 and 90 people which makes it the deadliest landslide in Canadian history. The death toll is not known because there were several dozen people camping near the base of the mountain, whom were not town residents, but there looking for work.
Of the victims, only 18 of their bodies were recovered. The rest remain buried under the rock. 12 of them were recovered after the incident, and another 6 were recovered in 1924 when a road was being built through the site.
After the landslide, there were multiple stories that began circulating about the town. The first, and most prominent was that the entire town was destroyed. This wasn’t true. Most of the town went unscathed.
After the landslide the town continued to grow. Three years after the landslide, the town’s population had grown to over 1000. In order to protect from future landslides, the parts of the town that were nearest to the mountain were dismantled and moved to a safer location.
Rumors developed that a branch of the Union Bank of Canada had been buried in the land slide along with half a million dollars. The bank however, wasn’t buried. The bank was purposefully demolished in 1911, and it was at this time that the legend of the buried money began to circulate. When the new highway was built in 1924 a police guard was required because some people believed they might encounter the supposed buried bank.
The Frank Slide inspired the Stompin’ Tom Connors song “How the Mountain Came Down.”