One hundred and nine years ago, the lively little mining community of Frank, Alberta was home to 600 people. Established only two years earlier in 1901, the settlement nestled within the rugged shadow of Turtle Mountain. It was built to provide the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company’s productive new mine with the workers and rail links it needed to exploit natural bounty of the coal-rich Crowsnest Pass. Named after Henry Luplin Frank, one of the company’s founders, the town enjoyed a grand opening with much fanfare, banqueting and the attendance of notable regional figures. But the peace and prosperity would not last long.
Local legend maintained that the native Crow Indians had long avoided Turtle Mountain. The peak’s testudine epithet came from their belief that the mountain ‘moved slowly’ like a turtle (although other sources indicate that it was named Turtle Mountain by Louis Garnett, a local rancher, who thought that the peak resembled a turtle’s face, with the shell rising behind) as in the past a landslide had killed some two hundred of their number during a belligerent encounter with the Blackfoot Indians. From then on Turtle Mountain had been peaceful—a silent sentinel watching over Crowsnest Pass. But, it was a serenity that was to be shattered on April 29th, 1903 when at 4:10 a.m. the east face of the mountain gave way.
Thirty million cubic metres of limestone broke free from the mountain and crashed down towards the sleeping populace of Frank. In a mere minute and a half a landslide one kilometre wide and 425 meters deep obliterated a vast portion of the town and killed an estimated 76 of the 100 people that lived in its path. A further 23 were injured and some 17 unfortunate miners found themselves trapped inside the mine.
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