Last week I was in southern Alberta for meetings with Vulcan County and the Town of Pincher Creek. To fill a meeting-free morning I decided to visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre (a thirty minute drive west of Pincher Creek on Highway 3). Throughout my visit grey clouds blanketed the sky, which befitted the destruction, sorrow and magnitude of the Frank Slide disaster.
On April 29, 1903 at 4:10 in the morning the east face of Turtle Mountain toppled and slid four kilometres into the Crowsnest River valley. In a mere ninety seconds, 82 million tonnes of limestone collapsed upon the southern end of the Town of Frank, a section of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) and the mine plant of the Canadian-American Coal Company. In total, at least ninety people were killed. To date, this is Canada’s deadliest rockslide.
In 1977 the Government of Alberta designated the site a Provincial Historic Resource for its significance as the site of Alberta’s worst natural disaster, for it being a geological phenomenon and for it serving as a provincial landmark (to learn more about the site’s heritage value, read the Frank Slide Statement of Significance). Visitors to the area can learn first-hand about the disaster through interactive multi-media displays at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, and by walking the Frank Slide Interpretive Trail.
Four levels of display space recount not only the horrors and triumphs of the people that awoke one morning to find their town buried, but provide geological and seismic information about the causes of the disaster. Audio-visual components and 3-D models allow visitors to visualize how Mother Nature could wreck such havoc. My favourite display was a set of three mountain monitoring sensors that are like those currently installed on Turtle Mountain to detect movement. Visitors are encouraged to stomp, jump, push, pull and lift blocks of concrete connected to a crack meter, tilt meter and seismic sensor. Computer screens reveal how sensitive the monitors are AND how strong YOU are! Yes, I jumped, stomped, pushed and pulled … the next time someone asks I will now be able to confidently state that I really can move mountains!
A 1.5 kilometre trail, beginning from the Interpretive Centre parking lot, winds through mounds of limestone rubble. Looming views of Turtle Mountain offer a stark reality check when walking along the trail. Hopes, dreams and memories lay beneath.
I walked the trail with an interpretive brochure in hand. Waypoints marked along the path explained what I saw and some of the events that occurred on that fateful day. The last quarter of the trail winds along the western edge of the fallen rock and loops back up to the parking lot through a wooded area. I paused during this reconnection with nature to read that, “mammals such as bears, deer and moose use these cool, sheltered woodlands to skirt the slide’s harsh, open environment as they move through the Crowsnest River valley. Mule deer can frequently be seen along this portion of the trail, particularly early and late in the day.” Taking a step to carry on my way, I thought how great it would be to see some deer. The breaking of twigs caused me to again pause. To my amazement I looked up to discover four deer staring at me!! All five of us stared. Soon enough they returned to their feeding while I continued staring. What a joy!
Turtle Mountain Web Cameras
The Alberta Geological Survey has installed two web cameras for viewing Turtle Mountain. One is in the valley looking up at the mountain and the other is positioned on the south peak providing a view of the valley below. Click here to see a current view of Turtle Mountain.
The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is open to the public, daily, from 10:00am to 5:00pm. July 1 through Labour Day, the Centre is open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm. Click here for additional information.
Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer
P.S. I must extend a big thank you to Monica and Myriah for welcoming me to the Interpretive Centre and for providing a great tour! I really enjoyed my visit.