On April 29, 1903, at 4:10 a.m., 82 million tonnes (30 million cubic metres) of limestone crashed from the summit of Turtle Mountain and buried a portion of the sleeping community of Frank in the valley below. The dimensions of the rock mass that fell are staggering: 150 metres (500 feet) deep, 425 metres (1,400 feet) high and one kilometre (3,280 feet) wide.
The bustling coal mining town of Frank, located at the base of Turtle Mountain, was home to approximately 600 people at the time of the slide in 1903. Fortunately, the slide missed most of the townsite, including all of the commercial section and most of the residences. Of the one hundred or so unfortunate individuals who lived in the southeast end of the townsite and were in the path of the rockslide, an estimated 90 were killed.
Scientists have determined that the primary cause of the Frank Slide was Turtle Mountain's unstable geological structure. Underground coal mining, which had begun in Turtle Mountain when the Canadian American Coal and Coke Company mine opened in 1900, may have contributed to the disaster. This, along with the freeze/thaw cycle of water in summit cracks and severe weather conditions on the night of the slide, may have triggered it.
The elevation of the north peak of Turtle Mountain is 2,100 metres (6,920 feet) and the south peak is 2,200 metres (7,217 feet) high. The coal seam that was mined from within Turtle Mountain is 3-7 metres (8-23 feet) thick, and is pitched at approximately an 85 degree angle. An outcrop of the coal seam can be seen on Turtle Mountain.
Amazing stories of tragedy and triumph from the wake of the Frank Slide:
- Seventeen underground mine workers on the night shift in the Frank Mine are trapped by the slide, but manage to dig their way to freedom.
- Following the slide, Big Charlie, a mine horse, is trapped underground for a month before being found by miners.
- A brakeman for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sid Choquette, races across the just-fallen rocks of the slide to flag down an approaching passenger train. Choquette heroically stops the train before it collides with the slide.
- Fifteen-year-old Lillian Clark stays overnight in Frank at the boarding house where she works rather than return home to her family’s cottage on Manitoba Avenue. She is safe, but her entire family is killed in the slide.
- The Bansemer family’s home on Manitoba Avenue is moved 6 metres off its foundation by the slide, but everyone in the cottage survives.
- The Ennis family’s home is crushed by the mud and rocks of the slide, but everyone in the family miraculously survives, including their baby daughter, Gladys, who goes on to a long life and becomes the last living survivor of the slide, passing away in 1993.
- In the Leitch family’s cottage on Manitoba Avenue, father, mother and four sons are killed but the three daughters survive.
- Rumours travel
the world about the entire town being buried with only one survivor
– a baby girl named ‘Frankie Slide.’ Although completely untrue,
these rumours and myths are passed on for generations.