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Legends of the Pass

September 30, 2020

Everyone loves a good folk tale. There’s something entrancing about listening to one – our imaginations burst with imagery and thoughts of days long gone, venturing to a time and place where rebels and renegades ran free, treasures were stolen and lost, and tragic events changed the fabric of entire communities. In this blog post, we introduce you to some of the most celebrated legends of The Pass, a colourful tapestry of characters and happenings that helped shape the spirit of the region.
Join us as we venture through history to tell tales of the gold rush, the biggest mining disaster in Canadian history, and a derailed cargo train resting at the bottom of Crowsnest Lakethat lead modern-day divers to discover a vehicle – and a treasure – of a different kind. You can visit all the locations where these extraordinary legends took place took place today – and we can tell you how.

The Legend of Lost Lemon Mine

Legend has it that in 1870, a man named Frank Lemon, and his friend – a man simply known as Blackjack, began panning for gold in a river somewhere in The Pass that was fed by three mountain streams. With glimmers of gold showing through the silt, they followed the trail upstream and discovered rich diggings and the ridge from where the gold came. Trouble was, the two men couldn’t agree as to whether they should start mining right away, or come back with better tools and supplies when winter melted into spring.

The story goes that Lemon killed Blackjack that night while he slept. Overcome with guilt for what he’d done, Lemon fled to the U.S. and confessed the crime to a priest.

The story gets wilder from there, with rumors of a curse and the untimely deaths of two other men who went in search of the legendary find (one who reportedly died of alcohol poisoning, the other who perished in a cabin fire.) Even Lemon had trouble finding the site again, going in circles whenever he got close to the location – hence the legend’s notorious name: The Legend of Lost Lemon Mine.

The Legend Continues…

Is there an abundance of unmined gold somewhere in The Pass? Perhaps we’ll never know, but you can stay near to where the story supposedly unfolded and explore for it yourself. The Lost Lemon RV Park, Campground and Cabins is located at the west end of Blairmore, and it’s open year-round.

The Hillcrest Mining Disaster

On June 19, 1914, an unprecedented disaster struck the town of Hillcrest – which at the time was a small settlement of 1,000 people, many of whom worked in the local coal mine. Shortly after nine o’clock that morning, a massive explosion, which was triggered by a pocket of methane gas, rocked the depths of the mine. Of the 235 men that went into the mine that day, 189 did not make it back out alive, leaving their wives as widows and hundreds of children with no father.

The Hillcrest Mine Experience Today

Most of the men who died in the accident were buried in a mass grave at Hillcrest Cemetery, and there’s a short interpretive walk there today that commemorates the disaster and those who were lost. Although the mine is long closed (it ceased operations in 1939), the remains of several buildings and structures on the site still stand. Overtaken by forest and predictably in poor condition, the place is distinctly eerie. As you walk the ground, following its trails from one ruin to the next, it’s easy to imagine the panic and horror of that tragic day, as men by the dozens were hauled lifeless from underground.

Sunken Treasures

The bottom of Crowsnest Lake holds intriguing (and watery) legends too. In 2012, two Calgary based lake divers heard a tale about a train that derailed into Crowsnest Lake during the Prohibition era, sending boxcars full of moonshine into the chilly water. They made it their mission to find it, but before coming across any sign of the train, the two men discovered a 1929 Chevrolet car at the bottom of the lake that, a layer of silt notwithstanding, was in remarkably good condition.

The car belonged to a local couple who happened to be musicians in a band during the roaring twenties. One night, they were on their way home from a performance – it was the dead of winter, and road conditions were poor. At some point, the couple reached a point on the road where things became impassible. With no other way to get around and go home, they drove out onto the frozen lake in a makeshift detour.

You can guess what happened next. Luckily the couple escaped after the car broke through the ice, but a cherished violin sank to the bottom of the lake along with their vehicle. Some 83 years later, Calgary treasure divers brought the long-lost instrument back up to the surface.

As for all that moonshine? Well, the divers came up dry. The derailed boxcars were located, but nary a bottle of booze was to be found in any of them.

Enjoying the Legendary Lake Today

While you likely won’t be doing any scuba diving at Crowsnest Lake, it’s a fantastic place for other water-borne adventures. Fishing, paddling and boating are all possible, and there are great companies that can get you geared up for the day. The experts at the Crowsnest Cafe and Fly Shop can get you kitted up and give you all the pointers you need to catch the big one.

There is more to explore, and legends to learn. Visit The Pass and start asking around. The locals here are great storytellers.

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