Tour the five historic mining communities that populate the Crowsnest Pass and you just might find yourself excavating a newfound appreciation of coal. Dig deep into the towns’ histories or just marvel at that view of the Rockies meeting the prairies. ● Frank Slide: In 1903, Turtle Mountain crashed down onto the town of Frank. It remains Canada’s deadliest rockslide. The interpretive centre is scientifically fascinating and very moving. ● Bellevue Mine: Strap on a headlamp and journey deep into Bellevue Mine for an underground tour through history. Bring a jacket – no matter how summery, it’s always much more cool inside the mine. Literally.
Take a popular self-guided historical walk along Fort Macleod’s carefully restored main street and be sure to stop in at Alberta’s oldest working theatre. Visit the Fort Museum to learn about the history of the North West Mounted Police and First Nations through lively programming, including the famous Red Serge VIP Groom-a-Horse Program and NWMP Musical Ride.
From Fort Macleod, head west on the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3) to Lundbreck, at the junction of the Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22). Follow the signs to Lundbreck Falls where the Crowsnest River takes a 12 m (39 ft) tumble to the canyon below. Great views from the parking lot lookout and you can walk a path down to the water. Back on Hwy 3 west, follow the signs to the Leitch Collieries. Established in 1907, the collieries were one of the largest and most ambitious coal mining operations in the Crowsnest Pass. Stroll around the ruins to see architecture that was ahead of its time, or take an interpretive tour.
Drive on to Bellevue, the first of the Crowsnest mining towns, built in 1905 on the flat land above the Bellevue Underground Mine. Take the underground tour and learn about the devastating explosion in 1910 that took the lives of 31 miners. Just across the highway is Hillcrest, where another tragedy took place: the Hillcrest Mine disaster of 1914. The deaths of 189 men made this the worst mining misfortune in Canadian history.
A little further down the road is Frank, the site of Canada’s most deadly rockslide. In 1903, some 82 million tonnes of rock hurtled down from Turtle Mountain burying part of the town below. You can still see the scars of the slide today as you drive along Hwy 3. With its interactive displays, interpretive presentations and a 30-minute docudrama, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre does an excellent job of telling this compelling story. Continue on to Blairmore and enjoy the self-guided historical walking tour, which takes you past many heritage houses.
Drive west to Coleman, the last major stop before crossing the Continental Divide into British Columbia. Take a self-guided tour of downtown Coleman – a National Historic Site lined with miners’ cottages and the original buildings that once housed a hotel, mercantile store, grocers, theatre and boarding house. Visit the Crowsnest Museum, hike the Historic Miners’ Path or hike to Star Creek Falls before returning to Fort Macleod.