April 29, 1903: At 4:10 AM 90 million tons of limestone fell from Turtle Mountain in 90 seconds. Turtle Mountain is located in the Crowsnest River Valley of the Blairmore Range. It is part of the Canadian Rockies and is situated in Alberta, Canada. The Oldman River originates here. It was named in 1880 by a local rancher who thought it looked like a turtle. A small town at the base of the mountain was named after it’s founder, Henry Luplin Frank, in 1901. The landslide is named after the town of Frank which was partially buried by the falling rock. Therefore, the disaster is called the Frank Slide.
Turtle Mountain has a thrust fault running through it with sandstone and shale beneath older limestone. The mountain was unstable due to the erosion of the sandstone and shale and was also destabilized by coal mining within the mountain. There were dramatic and deadly weather conditions where a quick freeze caused further destabilization. The limestone broke away and washed down the face of the mountain. There were about 600 people living in Frank at the time and of those, about 70 were killed.
There were seven miner’s cottages (six inhabited) destroyed in the slide. Also lost were a dairy farm, ranch, shoe store, livery stable, cemetery, ≈ 3 miles of roadway and railroad lines, a construction camp, and all the buildings on the surface associated with the Frank mine. There were three young girls who survived the disaster, riding the slide down or trapped under some rubble. Marion Leitch (15 months old) was thrown from her house onto a pile of hay and survived. Fernie Watkins was found in the debris. And finally Gladys Ennis (27 months old) was found in the mud by her mother. Ennis was the last survivor of the disaster, dying in 1995.
The townspeople were afraid of another landslide and eventually many moved away from Frank – to New Frank. In 1911, a Royal Commission study found the mountain to be unstable and the government ordered all the residents from that section of Frank to relocate. They did so with many moving to Crowsnest Pass or to New Frank. In 2003, 100 years after the disaster, the Premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, announced funding for a new program to monitor Turtle Mountain. The land is indeed unstable and the mountain remains under watch.
Bald as the bare mountain tops are bald, with a baldness full of grandeur. – Matthew Arnold
Down below the broad, roaring waves of the sea break against the deep foundation of the rock. But high above the mountain, the sea, and the peaks of rock the eternal ornamentation blooms silently from the dark depths of the universe. – Rudolf Otto
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock
I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here. – Wislawa Szymborska
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