"There was no warning. People awoke in the small hours of the morning to huge stones crashing through their houses. Many groped their way to safety in a suffocating fog of grey dust. One hundred seconds was all it took; in that time, the East face fell off Turtle Mountain, 90 million tons of rock slid down burying horses, mines, railways and the Crowsnest River. Seventy people died that 29 April 1903. It was the worst natural disaster to overtake Alberta. Stories are still told of the man who fought through the slide to flag down an oncoming train, or of the baby found, unharmed, perched on a boulder.
…Here we commemorate the awesome power of nature, and man's heroism in the face of it."
I felt an eerie reverence as we viewed the destruction and read survivors' narrations of the event. Interestingly, the account of the baby girl found on a boulder unharmed is a myth, as is the story that she was the lone survivor of the slide. It skirted the edge of town, sparing hundreds of lives.
My favorite story was the one of a man named Sid Choquette who immediately scrambled over two miles of boulders and debris to successfully flag down an approaching passenger train. Since the slide happened in pitch darkness on the night of the new moon, he had no idea what had even caused the destruction, or how far it stretched. In fact, it took DAYS to determine that the event had been a massive slide and not a volcanic eruption.
There's another account of three girls who were found alive in the top story of their home, which had been carried along by the moving debris below. Their parents and four brothers, sleeping on the bottom level, did not survive. The mass of limestone, mud, and trees is said to have moved like a dense liquid, and crashing boulders caused lightning-like flashes. Now, over a hundred years later, the mud and trees have disappeared and all that's left is a vast field of rock, including some boulders the size of boxcars.
I had chills for the majority of the time we were there, but especially when I read that the ancient Blackfoot and Kutenai tribes never camped near what they called "the mountain that moves". There are still fractures and fault lines in the strata of the remaining mountain and geologists say it's only a matter of time before there's another slide.
I know these pictures do it no justice. Here's an aerial photo (not mine) to give a little more perspective, but you should probably just go see it for yourself: