The local First Nation people did not like Turtle Mountain. They called it the "Mountain that Moves", and refused to camp in the area. The Europeans had no such worries, and mining of the coal was well underway. In the early morning of April 29, 1903, a shift of 17 miners was working deep underground. For weeks there had been strange things happening in the mine. Timbers holding up the tunnel walls would splinter and break for no apparent reason. Coal would occasional "mine itself", crumbling out of the seams overnight when no one was around. Small earthquakes were occasionally felt underground. The miners knew that the collapse of mine tunnels was an ever-present danger, so they may not have been overly surprised to hear the explosive concussion followed by an ominous silence. They were trapped, no doubt by a cave-in. They began to assess their situation. Soon, water was pouring into the tunnels, making a bad situation even worse.
The normal passage to the surface was blocked, but one of the miners knew that a second coal seam might be close enough to the surface that they could hack their way out. They started digging for all they were worth, gasping in the increasingly toxic air. One by one, the miners gave out. They weren't dead, but they just did not have the energy to pick up their tools. Only three of them were still working when they broke through to the surface. Rocks were still falling from above, so they couldn't yet escape, but they had fresh air, and they quickly cut another opening beneath a protective overhang. After thirteen horrible hours they emerged at the surface to find their experience was only a part of an even larger tragedy. A gigantic avalanche had buried part of their town, killing between 70 and 90 people. The miners had been given up for dead, so their appearance was some small bit of good news in the midst of the horrific event.
Northern Convergence tour, we were struck by the sudden appearance of an absolutely barren slope. It doesn't take long to realize why, as the highway crossed a huge debris field covered with gigantic boulders. It was the debris avalanche that destroyed so much of Frank back in 1903.
The slide was truly epic in scale. Totaling 30 million cubic meters (82 million tons), the avalanche was 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) wide, 425 meters (1,394 ft) high and 150 meters (490 ft) deep. It spread laterally over level ground, covering three square kilometers. The rocks had flowed over the surface like a thick liquid at speeds of up to 70 mph (112 km/hr). The entire event was over in less than 2 minutes.
We headed into nearby Pincher Creek for the night. It was our last night in Canada, but we still had plenty yet to see, on both sides of the border..