Friday, 09 December 2011 09:01

Crowsnest Pass history captured in comic book form

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By Susan Quinlan
Crowsnest Pass
When staff at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre (FSIC) put their heads together to come up with a way to promote the history of the area, they settled on a unique medium.

“We know from the Frank Slide Society there are many wonderful stories here. Someone came up with the idea of doing a comic book, then when we realized how many stories there were, someone thought of a series,” said Joey Ambrosi, interpretation/education officer at FSIC.

Ambrosi said he and FSIC Manager Monica Field were familiar with the historical comic written by Diamond City resident, Pete Brouwer, titled The March on Fort Whoop-Up.

They also knew famed illustrator Claude St. Aubin had drawn the comic.

“We knew about the NWMP comic Claude had illustrated and when we found out he lived in Raymond, we drove down there to talk to him.

He’s fascinated with Western Canadian history. We can’t pay his rate, so he did it as his paying workload would allow.”

The first two comics in the series have now been completed and include I Survived the Frank Slide: The Jessie Leitch Story and Big Charlie and the Frank Slide.

Leitch grew up in the small mining town of Frank. At 4:30 a.m. on April 28, 1903, the summit broke away from Turtle Mountain and covered part of that town, as its residents slept. Among the survivors were Jessie and her two sisters, and 17 of 20 male miners who had been underground when the slide occurred and later managed to dig themselves out.

Along with the buried miners was a mine horse called Charlie, as well trapped in the mine during the Turtle Mountain landslide. Charlie’s story is told alongside that of the miners, who eventually return to the shaft where Charlie was left to find the horse alive, surviving by eating the structural timbers and drinking seepage water.

“There’s lots of stories of death and destruction here, but there’s also those of survival and perseverance. People do survive these things; they still live here in the mountains.”

In the first comic, for example, Ambrosi explained how both Jessie Leitch and her two sisters survived Frank Slide.

The stories are written with the intent of including as many fact-based details as possible, said Ambrosi, so as to paint an accurate historical picture for readers.

“I find people that read them appreciate that fact.”

To then have Aubin illustrate has been wonderful, said Ambrosi.

“For him to do this stuff ... he loved the first two comic books.”

Ambrosi and Field are now in the process of penning the third book.

“It’s another tearjerker ... The key to these stories is that they’re historical comics of what life was like in the Crowsnest Pass. I see lots of adults picking them up in the gift shop and giving them a quick read ... they’re interested.”

Once the third installment has been completed, about the Hillcrest mine disaster, Ambrosi and Field will turn their attention to writing about the 1920 train robbery that targeted rum runner Emperor Pick and ended with a shootout at Bellevue Café.   

“Once we get down to the fourth and fifth comics, we’ll be able to bundle them.”

Each comic concludes with a full-page series of facts on the event, and a biographical profile or facts related to the story’s main character(s).

The comics are currently sold in the FSIC gift shop for $2.50, which includes GST.

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