Frances Shelley Wees, in a wonderful prose-poem called A Geography Lesson, described the Rockies:
They are like giants sleeping under a ragged green blanket piled with snow. Some day, you think, watching them crowd up against the sky, some day they will wake, or turn in their dreaming, and shatter the world.”
Occasionally the Rockies have turned in their dreaming, or perhaps just shuddered a little, and results have been devastating. On May 22, 1902, the little mining town of Coal Creek, near Fernie, experienced disaster when a tremor cause the cave-in of a coal mine and 128 men were killed.
After the Coal Creek disaster, a police officer, Constable Stevens, in town said openly that he wished a few hundred more men had been killed. The miners who were left held a court-martial and were ready to hang him. Calmer heads prevailed. They stripped him of his uniform and hustled him through all the mining towns of Alberta, showing him off. The police officer never came back.
Life was exciting in the foothills of the Rockies in those days. There was danger from nature, Indians, wild animals and rustlers from the north and south. During the Klondike gold rush, the Northwest Mounted Police chased out as many of the gamblers, swindlers and suspected murderers as they could. Many of them went to the mining towns like Fernie. The gamblers would wait for the
of the miners and railway construction workers, and take their money from them. There were thirteen hotels in the Crowsnest Pass, running wide open and the gamblers would get most of the workers’ money between Saturday and Monday.
The only doctor in the area, Saul Bonnell, worked for the C.P.R. He spent most of his time patching broken heads and stitching up wounds from knife fights. During 1898, when the Crowsnest Pass was under construction, there was a typhoid epidemic. Dr. Bonnell would have as many as sixty patients lying on the straw.
For further reading, I suggest a few places, such as The Vancouver Sun for a great photo, and then Crowsnest, B.C. has many articles about this, and When Coal Was King, provided by Wayback Archives, and finally there’s The Free Press from Fernie.B.C.