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Alexander "Alex" McPhail

Born Born 16 Apr 1875 Glace Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Married Married   unknown
Died Died 29 July 1947  

Photo Album - Family album of photos and documents.


  • Father: Archie McPhail; 1850-1923
  • Mother: Agnes Roe Cameron; 1857-1935


  1. Child 1
  2. Child 2
  3. Child 3

The Parents of Alex

Alex’s Early Years

The Frank Slide

Frank was one of a string of coal mining towns that emerged in the Crowsnest Pass region of what was then the Northwest Territories in the early 1900s (the Crowsnest Pass region now straddles the B.C./Alberta provincial border). Frank became a town in September of 1901, less than 2 years before the slide.

On April 29, 1903 at 4:10 am, Turtle Mountain came crashing down on the unsuspecting mining town. 30 million cubic metres of rock roared down the mountain in 90 seconds, killing more than 70 people in its wake.

Midnight, April 28, 1901. The night crew for the mine was assembled in Frank. There was Alex Tashigan, an Armenian weigh scale operator; Joseph Chapman, foreman of the crew, from Wales; Evan 'Halfpint' Jones, Chapman's assistant; John Watkins; William Warrington; Alex Clark; 'Shorty' Dawson; Dan McKenzie; Alex McPhail; Alex Grant; and Charlie Farrell, and one other unknown man.

Together, they crossed the bridge over the Old Man River and headed toward the mine entrance.

Just before 4:00 a.m., Fred Farrington and Alex Clark had taken a load of coal outside to the mine tipple where they sat down with Tashigan to eat their lunches. Inside the mine, the other miners worked, never realizing that they would never see their friends again.

Just after 4:00 a.m., Alex Grant and his driver felt a shock and then the mine began to tremble. Thinking it was a gas explosion, the two men sprinted off toward the entrance as the floor heaved beneath them and showers of rock and coal rained down upon them. Instead of finding the entrance, they found only a mass of rock, rubble and smashed timbers. Three or four other men soon joined them from the depths of the mine. William Warrington, panicked by their imprisonment, turned to run back into the mine but caught his foot in the rails and fell to the floor, thoroughly wrenching his leg. The pain brought him back to reality and he quickly regained his senses.

Meanwhile, Joe Chapman, who had been working further back, first felt the mine shudder, and then a sudden blast of hot air picked him up off his feet and slammed him against the wall. Temporarily stunned and breathless, the veteran miner quickly recomposed himself and took off down the tracks toward the entrance as fast as he could in the heaving tunnel.

Dan McKenzie had been working on an upper level deep inside the mine when a rush of air smashed him against the side of the tunnel, cutting open his head. Despite feeling the blood which had begun to soak his hair, McKenzie composed himself and raced toward the entrance.

Seventeen miners finally stood at the blocked entrance and considered their options. Several men thought that there couldn't be any more than 15 to 18 metres (50 to 60 feet) from the outside, but one man, who had worked the mine since opening day and knew it intimately, broke the news that they were at least 90 metres (300 feet) from safety.

Warrington, who was unable to walk, remained behind as the other men made their way to the lower level where they hoped to find the exit there still intact. Instead, they were confronted by the rising waters of the Old Man River as it backed up into a lake and began to flood the mine.

Except for the gurgling water, the mine was deathly quiet. Disheartened, the men began to walk back to the main entrance where Warrington was still waiting. Every man became suddenly aware that, in all likelihood, the air shafts had also been pinched off and the air supply would quickly become unbreathable. It was also possible that the tremors had opened up pockets of explosive gas which, being lighter than the air, would be settling into the upper chambers. Their future seemed written in stone.

The miners were surprisingly calm despite their circumstances. They had to do something. Each man returned to his work area to gather whatever tools he could carry back to the entrance. Once there, they began the task of digging themselves out.

As the men dug, Dan McKenzie and two others made their way into the upper, older levels of the mine. As suspected, gas was already gathering there, and, as feared, the air shafts had been completely sealed. They returned to find that very little progress was being made at the entrance. As fast as they dug out rubble, more fell into its place. The men began to panic.

At dawn, a second search party had gathered to plan the rescue of the miners trapped inside Turtle Mountain. The mine bridge was destroyed and the Old Man River was already becoming a lake. Travelling across the limestone dam was out of the question. The boulders were still shifting and the mountain side was still crumbling, showering rocks to the valley below. While the mining engineer tried to locate the entrance to the mine using the plans, other men ran about gathering up timber in order to build a makeshift raft.

Some say that Joe Chapman, the foreman, took charge. Some say it was Dan McKenzie. Others claim that Charlie Farrell took the lead. Whoever it was realized that that the air was quickly becoming fouled and they would be dead before they could dig through the entrance. He convinced the others that a vertical shaft of coal deeper in the mine might be their best chance of reaching the surface. The plan was feasible, and at least as certain of success as trying to open the entrance.

Somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00, the miners worked in relays of two or three men at a time. Work was slow but steady, and their progress urged them on. Most men grudgingly gave up their turn to dig when it was time for the next group to take over.

Around mid-afternoon, 3 men returned to the entrance to re-examine the prospects of escape. They realized then the impossibility of escape this way and returned to the others to continue digging upwards.

The oxygen supply in the mine was quickly dwindling. Some of the men became anxious and excited. Others became despondent and morose. In the beginning, they had sung songs to keep up their spirits and courage. Now it was late in the afternoon and most were quiet, hoping to conserve the last of their air supply. With most of the men slumped in exhaustion against the mine walls, or hanging their heads in fear or prayer, only Dan McKenzie and two others continued to dig in earnest.

Suddenly, without warning, Dan McKenzie's pick broke through the surface and the narrow shaft was flooded with sunlight. A blast of fresh air washed over him and down to the relieved miners below.

It was too dangerous to escape through the tunnel. Rocks were still cascading down the mountain side. But, with renewed energy and hope, the men began a new tunnel upward through 10 metres (36 feet) of coal and clay. Thirteen hours after the slide had sealed them in a tomb, they broke through once again on the lee side of some embedded boulders which shielded them from falling rocks above.

Dan McKenzie was the first man to step out into daylight to see for the first time the horrendous devastation below. The magnitude of it caught his breath and raised a lump in his throat. The north-east face of Turtle Mountain was gone. The rock slide had fanned out into the valley like a giant hand almost 2.5 kilometres (1˝ miles) wide and 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) to the tips of the deadly fingers.

? and ?

The Final Years for Alex_


-- JimBenedict - 31 Dec 2007
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