Perhaps no other town in the Crowsnest Pass reflects
historical ties to the coal industry to the extent that Frank,
Alberta does. From its inception to the substantial disaster the
town endured, Frank has long been tied to the mining industry.
Today there is little left of old Frank, the town abandoned long
ago contains only a few vestiges of its pasta fire hydrant, a
roadway to and from the slide, and a few basement foundations.
Away from the old town, and a safe distance from the threat of
another rockslide, a new Frank exists, and within it, the Frank
Slide Interpretive Centre, where one can learn the history of
the Crowsnest Pass.
In 1900, Samual Gebo came to Alberta looking for coal. He
decided that an area south of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)
and under the shadow of Turtle Mountain would be the ideal site
for a mining operation. Financed by Henry Frank, the two
entrepreneurs built the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company,
and constructed a town named after the financer. The mine needed
workers and enterprising people from beyond the Pass responded
by travelling west to populate the growing town. By the time of
Franks formal opening party on 10 September 1901, the
population had expanded to 300. By 1903, it had grown to over
On 29 April 1903, the prosperity of the town changed in mere
seconds. In less than two minutes, a rockslide covering
three-square kilometres wiped out an operating plant, closed the
mouth of the mine, and destroyed many of the houses in the town.
Only fate determined which houses were spared and which
occupants would survive.
According to Monica Field and David McIntyre in their book
On the Edge of Destruction:
The Frank Slide thundered over the land, claiming miners homes,
tents, a construction camp, two ranches, livery stables, the
surface workings of the mine, a two-kilometre stretch of the
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Branch Line, and three kilometres
of the Frank and Grassy Mountain Railway (the line to the nearby
town of Lillie).
Fortunately, most of the towns populace (600 people) lived a
stones throw beyond the path of devastation. Approximately 100
of the towns residents, those living along Gold Creek, were hit
by the edge of the slide as it crashed over them. Amazingly, 23
of these people, most of them children, somehow escaped death.
The response to the disaster was swift. The men trapped in
the mine found the will to escape their death trap and Frank's
citizens joined together to find other survivors. If not for a
community-wide effort, and quick thinking by the miners, the
death toll could have been higher. In the end, over 70 people
died as a result of the disaster.
The fear of another slide loomed
over the community. When a 1911 Royal Commission report warned
of a possible second rockslide, the community's worst fears were
confirmed. While many decided to move their homes to the far
side of Highway 3, others left the area completely, never to
return. By 1912, the Canadian Consolidated Company liquidated
their assets and closed the mine. The exodus continued, and by
year's end, the original town site was abandoned.
Today, the town still exists as a residential area north of
the highway that runs through the town. There is a commercial
strip along the road, and an industrial park to the south of the
old town. From their windows, citizens of Frank can still view
the shocking remnants of slide, and the nearby Frank Slide
Interpretive Centre, that ensures that no one who sees it will
ever forget the tragedy that once befell this quiet community.