Disaster and Dark Tourism in Alberta - Frank Slide Header

Disaster and Dark Tourism in Alberta – Frank Slide

Frank Slide - Turtle Mountain in Frank Alberta landslide
Turtle Mountain – with many boulders that slid down the mountain in 1903

When I think of dark tourism, Canada is the last place that comes to mind. But when I really take a look around, I find there are way more sites historically associated with a tragedy here than I originally thought there were. I always think of Europe as a haven for dark tourists. Especially since this part of the world endured many catastrophes. Everything from the plague, horrific volcanic eruptions, nuclear disasters, man-made famine and world wars, to name a few. But it turns out there’s a handful of dark tourism sites in Alberta, too.

Frank Slide

Frank Slide - Boulders are scattered all over the ground below Turtle Mountain. Location of the 1903 landslide in Frank Alberta.
Frank Slide – you can see the train tracks that run in the middle of the landslide.

Disaster has struck Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta multiple times over the years. Nestled in incredibly beautiful mountain surroundings, the town of Frank was quickly becoming a booming mining town. Frank was home to over 600 residents.

Turtle Mountain, part of the mountainous setting, was already unstable due to erosion from water and ice creating deep cracks on the inside. The mountain had a reputation with the local aboriginal groups. Who referred to it as “The Mountain That Walks” and it was just a matter of time before it moved significantly. Pair an already unstable geological structure with coal miners weakening the inside and destruction is inevitable.

Turtle Mountain on a bright sunny day. Turtle Mountain was involved in the landslide now known as Frank Slide in Alberta Canada

During the early morning of April 28th in 1903, several miners were working the midnight shift. These workers chose to ignore the rumbling warning sounds. Turtle Mountain had reached its limit. 110 million tonnes of limestone came crashing down onto the homes of 100 residents. This landslide ended up killing more than 90 people, while also trapping the working miners inside the mountain. Although stuck behind limestone, the miners managed to escape safely by digging themselves out of the rubble for 12 hours. This disastrous event became known as “Frank Slide”.

Green, tree lined land with a stunning mountain landscape in Crowsnest Pass Alberta
Crowsnest Pass

Venturing into the mines

I first learned about Frank Slide in junior high school when my class got to go on an epic overnight road trip to Frank. The trip turned out to be one of my favourite and most memorable field trips. We spent the night in the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and took an incredible trip into one of the former mines — the Bellevue Underground Mine.

Each of us equipped with nothing but a miner’s helmet and a lamp, off we went into the darkness of an authentic coal mine. Being led deeper and deeper into the mine (1000 ft in total) we heard stories about life in Frank and the men who worked there during its coal mining boom. The guides even discussed one of the disasters involving the Bellevue Mine — an explosion that took the lives of 31 men. At the end of the tour, we all turned off our lights and were cast into incredible and complete darkness. It was amazing! Tours of the Bellevue Underground Mine are available year-round.

A tree lined mountain in Crowsnest Pass
A tree-lined mountain in Crowsnest Pass

Canada’s worst mine disaster

As if having a mountain fall on your town isn’t enough of a fiasco, the nearby Hillcrest Mine also suffered Canada’s worst mine disaster. Explosions tore through the tunnels in 1914. The initial explosion occurred when a pocket of methane gas ignited, setting off a large coal dust explosion. The Hillcrest Cemetery is the final resting place of the 189 men who were killed on that fateful day. My first visit to the cemetery really developed my interest in cemeteries. In the lives of people buried in old, moss-covered cemeteries filled with history, such as the beautiful Glasgow Necropolis.

Beautiful lake running through greenery surrounded by mountains in Crowsnest Pass Alberta
The beautiful Crowsnest Pass

Crowsnest Pass is a beautiful part of Alberta. With a dark history of natural and man-made disasters that cost many people their lives. Turtle Mountain still moves a little bit each year and is closely monitored by scientists from the Alberta Geological Survey. Another landslide is not expected to occur unless “The Mountain That Moves” increases its speed. So visit Frank Slide today and walk among the incredible rubble that’s still scattered across the base of the mountain.

The Mountain That Fell on a Town - Dark Tourism in Canada - Frank Slide
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Comments 13

  1. Yesss! I’ve been waiting for this post! Well, kind of. I, admittedly, know nothing about Alberta’s history. But I knew you’d start digging into its dark history sooner or later! And this article didn’t disappoint.

    What a tragic history. It’s interesting that the aboriginal tribes totally knew something was up well before the infamous landslide.

    Like the weirdo I am, I love being underground. Mines are absolutely fascinating to me. Pair it with a disaster, and I’m all in. That Bellevue Underground tour sounds amazing. And not gonna lie, kind of want to go to Alberta now.

    Great article. Hoping to see more from the area soon 🙂

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      Yeah, I had been thinking about it after speaking to you, actually. All of a sudden I remembered Frank Slide! I have really good memories of the Bellevue Mine tour! It was a great tour filled with so much history.

      I do find it interesting that the local tribes knew that the mountain was unstable. It makes me wonder how they knew! Kind of like when the tribe on North Sentinel Island being totally fine when that earthquake hit the Indian Ocean (even causing a tsunami). I remember reading about helicopters flying over the island to check things out (I mean it’s so thickly covered in trees you can’t see much) and they were totally fine. I wish I knew how they are so in touch with the earth that they can be prepared or be wary of certain things happening around them. Got off topic there, but you know what I mean!

      If you ever head to Alberta – let me know!

  2. Sounds like Frank Mountain could well be what got you interested in dark tourism in the first place. I have to say I find stories like this intriguing, it really adds character and history to the places. Very enjoyable blog, thanks for sharing.

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      Yeah, you could be right! No matter how much I think about it I am not really sure where or when my interest in the macbre and dark tourism came from. When I moved to Scotland it really came out a lot more since there are so many historic, creepy, spooky and dark places within arms reach. I can definitely see an interest forming from this trip here in my youth. Thanks for your comment, John!

      1. It all added together I’m sure. Edinburgh has that feeling throughout, even the architecture is mysterious, yet still looks wonderful. I’ve been struggling to keep up these days with everyone, between Christmas, travelling and everything, so I’m happy to get back to doing some reading. Always a pleasure to read your blogs

  3. I have lived in alberta for a long time and i have never been to this place,time to go.

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  4. As usual, another great post Crystal. That Bellevue Underground tour sounds fascinating and a must fun experience. I’m slowly compiling and Alberta travel list through your posts alone.

    I have to admit, I got a good chuckle when you said, the town of Frank was becoming a booming town with over 600 residents. Around here 600 people about half a city block. Thanks for your insightful post!

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      Hahahaha! There is a place nearby where I live that has a population of 142 people. So tiny! I love that you are compiling an Alberta travel list! I am eager to visit Miami because of you! Thanks for your lovely comment!

  5. Turtle Mountain sounds extremely interesting and is probably haunted as heck (if that’s your thing to believe in). Even though it is tragic, I do like the idea of a walking mountain.

    Mines in general just seem terrifying. I definitely appreciate and understand the work behind them (and respect miners to no end). I am equally glad that I don’t have to go into one. I’d freak out.

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      I do love a good ghost story! The mines seemed so incredibly dangerous! It was a really cool experience but there is no chance I would ever work in one. So, what are your feelings on caves and cave diving? 😉

      1. I actually went cave tubing on a swollen river in Belize. I was pretty terrified. Not only were the guides stretching regulations with the river being too fast and deep, but the cave was pitch black. I’m not an amazing swimmer either. But here I am today—still alive. Thank gosh!! I’d love to explore caves, maybe?!

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          That sounds terrifying! I didn’t mine exploring the mine but caves are another story. The smaller the cave the less likely I’d do it… and an under water cave? no way. Glad you made it out safe! Does sound like quite the adventure! Cave tubing does actually sound fun.

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