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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Frank Slide

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A Canadian Pacific steam engine and caboose are seen crossing the slide area. The Crowsnest route was interrupted by the Slide and, for a time, this involved a combination of rail and car barge journeys (rail from Revelstoke to Arrowhead, by steamer or car barge down the Arrow Lakes to Robson West and then by rail to Nelson and Proctor with another steamer and car barge trip to Kootenay Landing). New lines were built over the top of the rubble and, over the next 50 years, tons of limestone were taken out for constructions purposes all over the prairies.The men in the mine had no way out. The main entrance was blocked by rock, and the lower entrance was filling with water. The Crowsnest River and Gold Creek (a tributary stream on the edge of town) had both been dammed by the slide. The main mass of the slide, perhaps deflected by a projecting rock ledge, did not, however, bury the river. But it did impede its flow. As soon as the slide crossed the valley, the rising river began to flood the lower workings of the mine, and farther upstream, the town.

The remaining 17 men on night shift, those working within the mountain, had not been crushed; their mine tunnels were intact. But the miners had no idea what had happened in the world beyond their sealed tomb. They knew only that they were trapped, their escape routes blocked. Even the ventilation tunnels leading to the surface were filled with rock. Within the mine, a bomb was ticking: precious oxygen was being depleted. And there was another danger: methane gas, released from the exposed coal, was reaching explosive levels.

Turtle Mountain/Frank SlideDeath seemed to stalk the miners' every move. They retreated from the blocked entrance and the rising waters, and began to dig their way through the coal seam toward the surface. The men, exhausted, worked frantically with nothing more than picks and shovels, the simple tools of their trade. Hours passed, and their efforts seemed futile. But then, more than 13 hours after the rockslide, they broke through. Fresh air flooded into the mine.

Seconds later, the weary miners stood on the surface, their battered bodies caught in the late day shadow of Turtle Mountain. They were free. but they looked out on chaos and uncertainty—a transformed landscape, a nightmare of rock, and for at least one man, the death of his family.Frank Slide

Below the miners, a sea of rock and mud replaced the edge of town. Boulders littered the landscape, houses burned, and rising Winter inundated the lowlands. As the men descended the slopes toward this riveting disaster, they met another team of miners, the day shift workers, men who, past hope, were digging for their "lost" comrades near the mine's entombed entrance.

This article has been extracted from On the Edge of Destruction: Canada's Deadliest Rockslide by Monica Field and David McIntyre (Vancouver, BC: Mitchell Press for the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, 2003). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank the authors and the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre (a Year of the Coal Miner member) for permission to reprint this material.

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