Thursday, March 22, 2012

Canadian calamities – Part 4 - The End

This is the last in the series of books about Canadian disasters.  Thank goodness.  Disasters can make for some interesting reading but I’ve learned that I need to spread it out a bit.  You too, maybe?

 This posting looks at two books about the same disaster – the Frank Slide.  In 1903, at 4:08 am, Turtle Mountain (located in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass) sent 90 million tonnes of rocks crashing down on a sleeping mining town, covering almost 3 kilometres of the valley floor in less than two minutes.  Over seventy people died. 

To learn more about the slide visit the website of the excellent interpretative centre that is located on the debris field.  If you ever come to southern Alberta, a visit to Frank will not disappoint.  (Some of the boulders are massive and awe inspiring to think crashing down of a vulnerable town.)

Shadows of Disaster (823 B467S FIC), by Calgarian Cathy Beveridge, gives us the story of the town of Frank just prior to the slide happening.  Through the eyes of Jolene, a contemporary girl who is able to travel through a time crease with her grandfather, we get to know some of the people living in Frank, the layout of the town and an overall feel for life in this small mining town in the early 1900s.  The focus of the novel is on Jolene finding confidence in herself.  She feels that she is at a disadvantage in most things in life because she is a girl.  The disaster comes late in the book as Jolene and her grandfather attempt to return to the present.  Though Jolene knows about the slide from her own time period, she doesn’t live through it or the aftermath. She doesn’t return to Frank to see for herself what the landslide has done to the town or people but relies on her grandfathers brief account (“It’s pretty awful, Jo.”) to end this part of the story.  Her concern for the people she comes to know living in Frank in 1903 is clear.  I would recommend this book for middle grades 5 to 8.

Another book, written for the same grade level, which covers the landslide and aftermath, is Terror at Turtle Mountain by Penny Draper (823 D79T FIC).  This book is about a fictional girl, Nathalie Vaughan, who lives in Frank in 1903.  Life for her is living with her widowed mother, going to school, playing with her friends and doing chores.  She suffers from feelings of being ‘not good enough’ because her grandfather disapproved of her mother’s marriage and, consequently, of Nathalie.  Living through the aftermath of the slide proves to Nathalie and others in her community that she has much to offer, that she is brave and capable in times of overwhelming tragedy.  Nathalie’s experience is only one of the narrative strands.  We also learn about a group of miners trapped after the rock fall and of the heroic efforts of two engineers to stop a train that is about to crash into the debris that has buried the train track.  Lots of tension is built about who survives and who doesn’t.   The author has included a fairly thorough note about the people of Frank, who they were and why they settled there, the Blackfoot people that lived in the area, the importance of the railroad and additional information about landslides. One interesting tidbit from the story, that I didn’t know, was the heat generated from the rock slide making the rocks hot.  (Some fascinating science notes to follow up perhaps.)
If you’re still up for more about Canadian disasters, check out a website published by Library and Archives Canada that presents a number of tragic stories, including the ones I’ve focussed on. The section on the Frank Slilde includes a concise report about the event with archival photographs and news articles.


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