April 29th is the 115th anniversary of the Frank Slide, when 82 million tonnes of limestone broke off Turtle Mountain and fell onto the town of Frank, Alberta, killing 90 of the town’s 600 inhabitants. The rock took only 90 seconds to fall, and the crash was heard a hundred miles away. Most of the dead are still buried beneath the rubble.
Sixty-eight years ago, on April 29th 1950, my great uncle John Kerr helped dedicate a public monument at a ceremony to commemorate those killed in the slide. Forty years ago, on April 29th 1978, my grandmother, Florence Kerr, cut the ribbon at the ceremony to inaugurate the Frank Slide as a provincial historical site. Twenty-eight years ago, in 1990, my dad, Bill Kerr, wrote a guidebook to the slide that has sold thousands of copies. And yesterday, on April 29th 2018, I gave a speech at a ceremony to commemorate the slide and to celebrate the re-release of my dad’s book.
The weekend was amazing on a personal level, for the feeling of connection to my family line and how I was received and loved because of the relationships people had with my ancestors. I can’t tell you how many people (strangers) I hugged and cried with because they knew and loved my dad, my grandparents, my great aunt, and other Kerrs who’d been active members of this small community over the last 110 years. I had a teacher who used to talk about the difference between ancestors of our blood, and ancestors of our village. This weekend I felt a visceral connection to the ancestors of my village.
The other incredible part of the process was the lineage of ceremonies to remember those buried beneath the slide. Every 5 years, the town organizes one of these ceremonies to mark the spiritual significance of an event that nobody alive today actually experienced, but which shapes the community nonetheless.
The ceremony included a gathering at the memorial to the victims, where we said some prayers, and presented wreaths. One on behalf of the families, one on behalf of the Underground Miner’s Association, one on behalf of the Historical Society, and so on. The ritual was simple but powerful, and the message was clear: What is remembered lives.
If you’d like to read the text of my speech, and see more photos, you can find that all here.