The mountain that moves

An eerie silence lies over the tiny town of Frank, Alta., like the shadow of a mountain peak.

I typically drive right through Frank.

As fast as I can.

Past the grey boulders that surround the No. 3 highway from Pincher Creek to Crowsnest Pass.

Past the liquor store that has closed, likely due to lack of business.

Past the gaping hole in the side of Turtle Mountain.

Past the rocky graves of 76 people who lie under the boulders that once composed the main peak of Turtle Mountain.

On April 29, 1903, the side of the mountain gave away and tons of limestone cascaded onto the outer edge of Frank, a town of 600 bustling with mining activity.

Most of the town escaped the slide that day, the path of rocks striking the outer corner of Frank. The avalanche was deflected by a projecting rock ledge above the coal mine, where 100 men were working that night. The river was blocked and had to be dynamited clear before teh twon was flooded.

Two kilometres of railway were covered by rock and rebuilt. A road was built around the boulders so the town could be accessed.

And the town moved north a titch, after a Royal Commission Report in 1911 warned of another slide, this one from the North Peak.

The town moved again in the 1930s, when the South Peak started to threaten.

The First Nations people of that area avoided Turtle Mountain, calling it the Mountain That Walks. The natives may have climbed the mountain and observed large summit cracks and witnessed rock falls.

They never camped beneath the eastern face of Turtle Mountains, precisely where the slide occurred.

It’s a ghostly walk down the trail of rocks at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. A path of small gravel has been laid into the great boulders which fell off the mountain more than century ago.

It winds down the hill and it’s a short, easy hike, but one that constantly reminds of the destruction that took place.

I wonder if the people who slept while the mountain fell knew what hit them.

I wonder if the folks who happened to not be in their beds that night thanked their lucky stars every day for the rest of their lives.

I wonder why a highway lies in the shadow of a mountain that plans to finish coming down.

I wonder why some people refused to move out of the third location of Frank, all the while knowing the South Peak could come down any day.  The runout area for the South Peak fall contains residences, recreational facilities, commercial buildings, historic sites, agricultural land, utility corridors, Highway 3 and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project endeavours to reduce the risk, though, promoting public safety, scientific research, public education and bolstering the local economy.

It uses LIDAR (light detection and ranging) to track ground features of Turtle Mountain and it has determined Turtle Mountain produced to ancient slides before the 1903 Frank Slide.

Nonetheless, it isn’t entirely the cool twilight air and brisk wind that chill my bones as I traipse through the interpretive walk, reading the signs from which I gleaned the above information.

It maybe isn’t even the knowledge of the horrific death 76 people suffered that day so many years ago.

Maybe it’s knowing the rest of the mountain will give away, too.

Because it isn’t a matter of ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’

And who might be driving by when it goes.


    1. No, not at all like Drumheller. There’s something other worldly about that area, with the hoodoos and such. Frank and the surrounding communities are mountain towns, beautiful in another way.

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