Resource Links Review - Terror at Turtle Mountain

Reviewed by: Victoria Pennell

On April 29, 1903, in just 90 seconds, part of the side of Turtle Mountain slid away covering a large area of the town of Frank, Alberta and burying the entrance to the lucrative coal mine. Legends surrounding the mountain maintained that the mountain 'walked' from time to time and the natives were always predicting a major slide at some time in the future. This slide was the worst in Canada's history and killed seventy-six people.

As Draper's story begins Nathalie Vaughan and her mother are introduced as residents of Frank - Caroline works at the Imperial Hotel and Nathalie is one of the senior students at the new school. We learn that for some reason Nathalie's father was not accepted by her mother's parents and there had been a rift in the family. Now even after her father has died there has been no reconciliation, so Nathalie and her mother are supporting themselves and continuing to live in the mining town. The first few chapters chronicle Nathalie's school days and her relationships with her friends, most of whom live beyond Gold Creek on the "field side" of the mountain. Draper also weaves in the legend of the mountain as the girls listen to Andy Gissack, an old trapper from Lethbridge who told tales to all the children in Frank. As Nathalie arrives home after hearing Andy's story, she learns that her mother's sister and her young cousin are coming to visit them. They will be arriving on the train sometimes overnight. (Will there finally be a reconciliation?) Draper covers all the bases in setting up the action of the story as she also writes about the night shift of the miners on their way to work and the railway night crew who are operating the freight train which carried the coal from the mine. 

Up to this point in the story, life is proceeding in a normal way. Then during the night of April 29, 1903, there is a disastrous slide which drops over 500 feet of rocks and mud into the valley at the base of Turtle Mountain, literally burying the area on the field side of the mountain where many of the miners lived and trapping 17 men on the night shift underground. From here the action picks up and we see Nathalie and her mother become part of the rescue team with her mother helping out with the provision of food and shelter at the Imperial Hotel and Nathalie going into the area of the slide where she and her friend Toby act as trackers listening for the voices of people who are still alive underneath the rubble. Nathalie succeeds in rescuing several of her friends but also has to deal with the tragedy of finding that numer of their parents and siblings have been killed.

Draper's information is historically accurate and many of the people named in the story are real people who lived and worked in Frank at the time of the slide. Nathalie and her mother are fictional characters, but typical of those who lived in Frank at the time, and the action of the rescue is well portrayed through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl. This is the latest in a number of books which have been written about the Frank slide in recent years - Shadows of Disaster by Cathy Beveridge (2003); The Mountain That Walked by Katherine Holubitsky (2005); and the Our Canadian Girl Series about Keeley by Deborah Ellis. This book is well-written. Draper handles the tragedy and the ensuing deaths with sensitivity and Nathalie emerges as a much stronger character at the end of the story when there is indeed a reconciliation with her grandfather. This book should be enjoyed by boys and girls at the elementary level. It is another addition to the growing genre of Canadian historical fiction and is recommended for purchase by school and public libraries.

Thematic Links: Frank, AB; Mining Towns - Canada; Alberta - History

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