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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The village of Frank was established in 1901 to service mines that would provide coal to the CPR. 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 past—a 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 Frank’s formal opening party on 10 September 1901, the population had expanded to 300. By 1903, itTurtle Mountain Monitoring Station had grown to over 600 people.

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 town’s populace (600 people) lived a stone’s throw beyond the path of devastation. Approximately 100 of the town’s 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.

Frank Slide Interpretive CentreThe 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.

Frank still exists in the shadow of Turtle Mountain.  However, the populace is now a safe distance away if a second slide should occur.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.

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