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Sabbatical, 2004
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Driving Through a Landslide

... the second of three vignettes from the Summer vacation of August, 1999

When our kids were young, we would go camping as a family for a couple of weeks each summer, but after they grew up and moved away Heather said “No more camping for me!”  Her decision was irrevocable.

The deal we reached was that I would get a week to go out into the wilderness by myself, then the rest of my vacation would be spent with Heather doing things together. What those things might be would vary from year to year, and, although I had a sort of veto, they were ultimately things which Heather chose to do.

This year we decided to drive across the Canadian prairies to visit our oldest son and his family in British Columbia.

Part of the fun would be the drive.  Heather and I truly enjoy driving together, and she even likes wild places – if they can be seen in comparative comfort, and if warm beds and showers can be had at the end of the day!

So, we decided to take our time driving, and to do a bit of exploring.  We chose a route into the heart of British Columbia that we had never travelled before – known as the “Crow’s Nest Pass.”

This is NOT a little-known route.  It is a main road through the Canadian Rockies, and one of the earliest settled.  But Heather and I had never seen it, and chose to go that way.

It is always spectacular moving from the rolling Alberta hills into the stately majesty of the Rockies, and we were enjoying ourselves thoroughly, exclaiming about the vistas as the road moved steadily upwards into the mountains.

Although the great grey peaks themselves looked untouched and untouchable, the valleys beneath showed much sign of human occupation.  We went by farming villages, lumber mills, ski resorts, and mining.  Slag heaps and other signs of mining were old and disused, however, and eventually the highway signs indicated that we were driving by historic sites, of now-abandoned coal works.  Heather speculated that the end of the railway steam era had probably forced these mines to close.

Suddenly all habitation stopped.  The road had moved into an enormous field of loose rock.  High on each side of us were huge and jagged boulders, without a scrap of earth or twig or foliage to be seen.  If it weren’t for the paved and levelled road running through it, one would have thought that only moments before a giant avalanche of rock had crashed into the valley.

Photo of destroyed mountainside
The Frank Slide
As it turned out, it was a rock slide.  The entire side of a mountain had collapsed into the valley.

In 1903.

The slide had buried an entire town.  Early one April morning, in a process that lasted 100 seconds, people sleeping in their homes were crushed under tonnes of rock.

A plaque on the side of the road told the story.  The name of the village was “Frank” and the cause of the rock slide was, among other things, the mining that was going on under the mountain.

Though almost a hundred years have passed, the field of shattered rock still has not begun to show any vegetation.  It looks like it came thundering across the valley only yesterday.

I felt like we were driving over what was left of Pompeii.  Somewhere deep beneath us were the remains of people still in their beds, or in the positions they held as the rock came down.  It was awesome.

The Alberta government has designated the Frank Slide disaster an official “heritage” site.  There is a visitors’ centre.  Even a website!

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