FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
1. When did the Frank Slide take place?
The Frank Slide occurred at 4:10 a.m. on April 29,
2. What caused the Frank Slide?
The primary cause of the Frank Slide
was the unstable geological structure of Turtle Mountain. The mountain’s
once horizontal layers of sedimentary rock had been folded during the
mountain building process until almost vertical – the ultimate in mountain
instability. A major thrust fault – the Turtle Mountain Thrust Fault
– runs through the mountain. The thrust fault further divides and weakens
the layers of rock within the mountain. The erosion by water and ice
of sandstone and shale layers on the lower half of the mountain beneath
the older layers of limestone on the upper half of the mountain created
a significant overhang. Large surface cracks along the summit of the
mountain allowed water to enter deep within Turtle Mountain. Water continued
to eat away at the limestone and the freezing and thawing action of water
and ice worked to widen the cracks, creating even more instability. Turtle
Mountain was a mountain ready to fall. It was just a matter of time.
Immediately following the slide, coal mining, which had begun in 1900,
was blamed for the disaster. In the years following the slide, coal mining
has been identified by scientists as a secondary or contributing factor,
but it was the unstable geological structure that was the main cause
of the massive rock avalanche.
3. How long did it last? How loud was it?
How fast were the rocks moving?
Many people for many kilometres around
heard the roar of the slide. It was so loud it is said that some people
in the town of Cochrane, outside Calgary – over 200 kilometres (120 miles) away
– heard the noise from the Frank Slide. Ear-witnesses in and around Frank
said the slide lasted approximately 100 seconds and that the sound was
like steam escaping under high pressure. Based on how far the rocks extend
across the Crowsnest River valley and the time the slide lasted, scientists
estimate that rocks were moving at speeds up to 120 kilometres per hour (70 miles per hour).
4. How much rock fell? How much
area did it cover in the valley?
Scientists have estimated that the block
of rock, mostly limestone, which fell from the top of Turtle Mountain
during the Frank Slide was approximately one kilometre in width, almost
half a kilometre (425 metres) in height and 150 metres thick. This calculates
to a volume of approximately 30 million cubic metres (82 million metric tonnes or 90 million tons of rock). Current studies
indicate that there may be more rock in the slide than previously thought
– as much as 100 million tonnes in total. An area of three square kilometres
on the valley bottom was buried to an average depth of 14 metres (46
feet), with some spots as deep as 45 metres (150 feet). To put it all
into perspective, it has been calculated that you could build a wall one
metre wide and six metres high, all the way from Victoria, B.C. to Halifax,
Nova Scotia, from the rock that fell from Turtle Mountain during the
Frank Slide. Amazing!
many people were killed? How many people survived?
Of the 600 people living in Frank at the time of the rockslide, over
one hundred were in the path of the rocks. Of those, more than 90
were killed. In fact, because the bodies of most victims were never recovered,
there has never been an exact number of victims established. Seventy
people were reported dead in the Frank Sentinel paper at the time of
the slide. Twenty-three very lucky people in cottages in the southeast edge of town survived the actual rockslide. Seventeen miners inside
the mine survived but were trapped and had to rescue themselves. Approximately
500 people in the townsite of Frank were not touched by the rockslide,
but probably considered themselves to be survivors of the Frank Slide.
6. Were all of the bodies recovered from the slide?
No, this was impossible due to the depth of the rocks, up to 45 metres
(150 feet) deep. However, there were twelve bodies pulled from the shallower
rubble along the western edge of the slide in the first few days after
the catastrophe. Approximately 80 bodies were unaccounted for. In 1922,
a road construction crew uncovered a home, believed to belong to the
Alfred Clark family, and six more bodies were recovered.
7. What about the baby girl who was found on a rock? Who is “Frankie
The story of “Frankie Slide,” a baby girl who was the only survivor
of the Frank Slide, is erroneous, though one of the most famous myths.
This story does have its roots in bits of truth, as there were several
young girls who survived the disaster.
Twenty-three people in the seven
cottages on Manitoba Avenue at the western edge of the slide did survive
the rockslide. This included three young girls. The first was Fernie
Watkins, a three-year-old girl found in the debris outside her family’s
home by the pit boss at the mine, Edgar Ash. The second was Marion Leitch,
two years old, who was thrown from her house when the rocks hit. Marion
was supposedly found on a pile of hay beside the house. Gladys Ennis was 15 months
old at the time of the disaster and was found choking on mud thrown by
the slide that destroyed her home. Lucy Ennis or Sam Ennis, Gladys's
parents, saved her life, as one of them cleared their daughter's nose
and throat of mud.
False stories spread around the world about a single
baby girl, named “Frankie Slide” by her rescuers, who was the only survivor
from the town of Frank following the slide. As noted, there were three
young girls who survived the slide, plus twenty other people pulled alive
from the rocks along with the over 500 people from the townsite of Frank
who were not touched by the slide at all.
8. Are there any survivors from the slide still living?
No. The last survivor to pass away was Gladys Ennis, who died in Bellevue,
Washington on March 20, 1993 at the age of 91.
9. Why is the disaster called the Frank Slide?
When the rockslide happened in 1903, although it fell from Turtle Mountain,
it covered a portion of the community of Frank, earning the name the
Frank Slide. Frank was named in 1901, after its founder, Henry Luplin
Frank, a businessman from Butte, Montana who saw opportunity in the great
coal deposits of the Crowsnest Pass.
10. What was destroyed in the slide?
- Seven miner's cottages—six inhabited at the time—on
Frank’s easternmost street, Manitoba Avenue;
- All of the surface
buildings of the Canadian American Coal and Coke Company;
- The McVeigh
and Poupore construction camp;
- A dairy farm, two ranches, a shoe store,
a livery stable, the Frank cemetery, two kilometres of cart track;
kilometres of Canadian Pacific Railway line; and
- 1.5 kilometres of the
just-completed Frank and Grassy Mountain Railway line.
11. If the entire town wasn't destroyed in the slide, why is it not
at its original location?
In 1901, the original townsite was established at the base of Turtle
Mountain. This provided easy and quick access for workers to the Canadian American
Coal and Coke Company mine, which began producing coal in 1901. After
the Frank Slide fell in April of 1903, some people from the townsite
of Frank began to move away, fearing another massive rockslide. Many
people stayed and Frank grew from 600 inhabitants at the time of the
slide to a population of one thousand by 1910. As the townsite expanded,
there was nowhere for it to grow eastward, so the community of “New Frank”
took root just northwest of the original town across the Canadian Pacific
Railway tracks. In the years following the slide, scientists studied
Turtle Mountain very closely to determine whether another slide would
come down. In 1911, a Royal Commission of scientists found the north
peak of Turtle Mountain to be structurally unstable and determined that
the townsite of Frank was in danger. In reaction to the Royal Commission,
the provincial government ordered that all buildings from “Old Frank”
be relocated. Over the next few years, all of the buildings of Old Frank
were either dismantled or relocated. Many buildings were moved to other
areas of the Crowsnest Pass with some moving “across the tracks” to New
Frank. Today, the community of Frank is part of the Municipality of Crowsnest
Pass and is located on the north side of Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway)
at the location of what was once known as New Frank. In recent years,
scientists have determined that the north peak of Turtle Mountain is
unlikely to produce a rock avalanche of significant volume. The Frank
Industrial Park—south of Highway 3 and the C.P.R. line and below the
cliffs of Turtle Mountain—now occupies the original 1901 townsite of
12. Will more of Turtle Mountain fall in the future?
Scientists believe that another significant rock avalanche will occur
at some time in the future on Turtle Mountain. Turtle Mountain continues
to move—at a few millimetres per year—to the northeast toward
the valley below. Over time the forces holding up the top of the mountain
will be overcome by gravity and another large mass
will break loose and tumble into the valley. Scientists now focus on
the south and third peaks of Turtle Mountain where a series of large
cracks suggest that this will be the location of the next large rockslide.
Upper South Peak, Lower South Peak and Lower Third Peak are possible
sources for rock avalanches involving significant volumes of rock. Scientists
have been studying this part of the mountain for decades, and in recent
years very sophisticated monitoring equipment has been installed on the
mountain by the Alberta government.
Scientists from the Alberta Geological
Survey keep a close watch on all of the real-time data that is transmitted
from the monitoring equipment on Turtle Mountain. Scientists suggest
that if all of the zones of instability on South and Third Peaks gave
way at once, the resulting rockslide would be approximately 1/6 the size
of the original Frank Slide and would fall along the eastern edge of
the original slide. It’s likely that a rockslide of that size would cover
approximately a dozen homes in the valley below and would reach the rail line.
Turtle Mountain is currently monitored by several state-of-the-art technologies and the continuous data stream from this network provides valuable insights into the mechanics of the slowly moving rock mass. Scientists estimate that
any major rockslide from Turtle Mountain is not likely to occur anytime
soon if the mountain continues to move at its current slow, turtle-like
pace. However, if movement begins to speed up, a major rockslide could
happen much sooner. And, if an earthquake happens nearby, all bets are
Last reviewed/revised: July 29, 2015