Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass. Rev. ed.


168 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-894384-16-4
DDC 971.23'4




Edited by Diana Wilson
Reviewed by David W. Leonard

David W. Leonard is the project historian (Northern Alberta) in the
Historic Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development. He
is the author of Delayed Frontier: The Peace River Country to 1909 and
co-author of The Lure of the Peace River Coun


The Crowsnest Pass is a 60 km pass through the Rocky Mountains that
extends, roughly, from Burmis, Alberta, to Fernie, British Columbia. In
1882, geologist George Dawson reported that the area “was destined to
be one of the most valuable and most productive coalfields in Canada.”
At the time, the Canadian Pacific Railway was approaching the southern
foothills from the east, and regional coal supplies would soon be much
in demand, not only for railways, but for the settlers and towns that
were expected to emerge in their wake. As a result, coal syndicates
began to explore the mountainsides of the Pass, and they found
Dawson’s words to be prophetic, as huge seams were uncovered. The
question then became one of production and export, and, primarily
through the initiative of Colonel James Barker, a Crowsnest Pass Railway
(the British Columbia Southern) was conceived as a branch of the CPR; by
1898, it was operational. The Pass went on to become one of the largest
producers of coal in Canada.

The “triumph” described in this book lies mainly in the completion
of the railway from Burmis to Fernie. The “tragedy” lies in the huge
loss of life and physical injury experienced by the people who toiled in
the mines, along with their families, eking out minimal wages while
doing so. In all, about 600 people were killed in various tragedies in
the district. Three major disasters stand out in particular. In 1903, a
slide off Turtle Mountain covered much of the community of Frank, and
about 80 people lost their lives. Then, in 1908, a fire razed
practically the entire town of Fernie, with 10 people killed and most
residents losing their homes and personal belongings. In 1914, in nearby
Hillcrest, a mine explosion took nearly 200 lives. Another tragedy could
be identified as the pitiful conditions in which the miners worked, and
the drab surroundings of the mining towns where they and their families

This history of the Crowsnest Pass includes archival photos, detailed
maps, and engaging and revealing chapters by Diana Wilson, Frank
Anderson, and Elise Turnbull. Triumph and Tragedy... is essential
reading for anyone seeking to learn about this compelling aspect of
Western Canadian history.


“Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass. Rev. ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,