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Published: September 3rd 2019
Today we will be travelling to the ski resort town of Fernie which is up over the range in British Columbia. First stop is the very picturesque Lundbreck Falls which are in the foothills of the Rockies just off the Crowsnest Highway. Emma and Michael lived in the small settlement of Coleman in Crowsnest Pass (“the Pass”) until very recently, and our main reason for coming up this way is for them to show us the places we’ve heard them talk about from when they lived here.
We move on to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre which is near the eastern end of the Pass. This is a series of displays about the 1903 tragedy in which more than a hundred thousand tons of rock from the adjacent Turtle Mountain slid into the valley in less than two minutes in the middle of the night, killing more than 90 people. The noise from the slide was heard more than two hundred kilometres away. The rocks that fell from the mountain cover an area of around three square kilometres of the valley, and remain pretty much as they did immediately after the event. It remains the deadliest landslide in Canadian history.
The town of Frank had about 700 residents at the time, and had only been established a couple of years earlier to service the recently opened Frank coal mine. Although the slide wiped out one edge of the town, most of the people who were killed were in ranches and other settlements just outside the town, closer to the mine. Twenty miners were working night shift at the time. They were initially assumed dead, but all 17 who were working underground managed to dig themselves out over a few hours after the slide, and the only three who were killed were unlucky enough to have been taking a dinner break outside the mine when the mountain came down. Only twelve bodies from the disaster were ever recovered, and around 80 remain buried under what has now been designated a National Historic Site.
It seems that the local Indian tribes were always nervous about Turtle Mountain. Their oral history referred to it as “the mountain that moves”, and they always made sure they stayed well clear of the valley below it. Geologists say that the slide was an accident waiting to happen. Turtle Mountain is made up of steep layers
The scar on Turtle Mountain where the slide came from is clearly visible in the background
of sedimentary rock, and as water got into the cracks between the layers and froze, the cracks got progressively wider and something was always bound to give eventually. The coal mining was initially blamed, but it seems that this probably just accelerated what was going to happen anyway. The Interpretive Centre is excellent. We listen to a talk by one of the staff members and then watch a movie on the tragedy in the Centre’s theatrette.
We move onto Coleman and have lunch at “The Rum Runner”, which was one of Emma and Michael’s favourite haunts when they lived here. Issy asks what the soup of the day is, and is told that it’s “hamburger”; well that’s what she thought she was told. Neither of us have ever heard of hamburger soup, but then again there are lots of things that we’ve heard about here in Canada that we’d never heard of before. Issy isn’t game to get the waitress to repeat it, as she’s starting to mistrust her hearing. When she asked the waitress at dinner last night what her Prosecco was going to come in she misheard “tumbler” as “can”. The waitress then looked a bit unimpressed
that one of the guests would think that the restaurant would be serving wine that came in cans. I wonder if wine ever comes in cans. Anyway, the hamburger soup turns up, and whilst Issy’s not entirely sure what’s in it, she says it’s actually pretty good.
We have a look at the house that Emma and Michael lived in when they were here. It’s a tiny cottage made to look even smaller as it's sitting between two much larger houses. Emma wasn’t able to find a job here, which isn’t too surprising now that we’ve seen how small the community is. The cottage is quite remote from the main part of Coleman, and Issy and I are both scratching our heads a bit wondering how Emma managed to survive a winter up here cooped up in such a tiny place so far from anywhere. The power of love ..... and TV.
The scenery along the highway is spectacular, with the usual offering of towering rocky peaks wherever we look. It seems to get a bit greener as we move out of the rain shadow into British Columbia.
We’ve been told that half the people who work
in Fernie are Aussies here on working visas, and the first person we meet, the hotel receptionist, is indeed from Sydney. It sounds like the town could do with a few more Aussies. The hotel is giving ten dollar discounts on the rooms because they can’t find any staff to clean them.
The main reason Emma wanted us to come to Fernie was to go to her favourite sushi restaurant, which in her eyes is a Canadian institution. The food is excellent, and is so good that Issy says that it may even satisfy her Japanese food cravings from now until we get home in a bit over a week.
Emma and Michael head back to Lethbridge where we’ll catch up with them again tomorrow.
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