At 4:10am on April 29th, 1903, townspeople in the mining town of Frank, Alberta were awoken by the sound of a deep and ominous rumbling. Within two minutes, limestone buried Frank and its residents under 150 feet of rubble.
The landslide at Turtle Mountain happened quickly, but the disaster had really been a long time coming. A dozen coal mines worked in the area, weaving honeycombed tunnels through the mountain. This was only part of the problem, though, as water seeping through the rocks over the years had taken its toll with annual freezing and thawing. By the time of the landslide, the formerly horizontal layers of sedimentary rock were almost vertical. And, to make matters worse, a fault line ran right beneath the mountain. Turtle Mountain was destined to fall.
The rumblings heard by the people of Frank were so loud that they could be heard over 200 miles away. Around 600 people lived in the town at the time, and nearly 1/6th of the population were buried. Most did not survive. The bodies of those who perished couldn’t be recovered, trapped beneath the layers of rock. Even today, visitors to the area can see the remnants of the devastating slide.
There was a long standing rumour that the Union Bank of Canada in Frank had been buried with $500,000 in cash inside. Unfortunately, for treasure seekers, the bank was untouched by the slide and remained in the same location until it was demolished in 1911. However, the rumour was still very well-known and in 1924 crews building a new road through the pass operated under police guard as it was believed they could unearth the supposedly buried bank.
The scar of the collapse may not be the only mark left in Frank. Some residents and visitors have described an eerie feeling about the place and the sense that they’re not alone. There are other tales of hikers in the area seeing apparitions and floating lights among the debris field. Some suggest it is the spirits of those caught in the slide trying to show where they were trapped and forgotten under the deadly falling rocks.
The rockslide was the deadliest in Canadian history, and its story is remembered to this day. There are numerous songs written about the tragedy, including How The Mountain Came Down by Stompin’ Tom Connors (listen below!).
Interested in learning more about the Frank Slide? The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre overlooks the landslide site.