Where in Canada: The Wild West of Alberta

February 5, 2015

McKay’s novel takes place in Stony Point, a coal-mining town in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass. A few weeks before the novel begins, just east of the town, most of the summit of Turtle Mountain slides downhill, flattening the eastern edge of Frank, Alberta, on April 29, 1903. The side of this mountain, with the new scrape running down its face, is the first thing the heroine of Stony Point sees when she arrives in the Pass.

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StonyPoint

What:

Stony Point (Inanna Publications, 2014)

Who:

S. Noël McKay has lived in Alberta most of her life. She attended the University of Alberta before starting a career in the transportation industry. She currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with her cat, Cletus. Both enjoy snowboarding. Stony Point is her debut novel.

Where in Canada:

McKay’s novel takes place in Stony Point, a coal-mining town in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass. A few weeks before the novel begins, just east of the town, most of the summit of Turtle Mountain slides downhill, flattening the eastern edge of Frank, Alberta, on April 29, 1903. The side of this mountain, with the new scrape running down its face, is the first thing the heroine of Stony Point sees when she arrives in the Pass. Lucille Reilly, a pioneering newspaperwoman, has no inkling of the changes the slide disaster will make in her own life. She has only come to the Pass to find out what became of her sister’s husband, a fellow journalist who vanished from Stony Point while researching a story about coal miners and their struggle to organize. The novel relates her ensuing adventure.

The setting adds an interesting layer that readers of historical fiction will enjoy. The coal miners of the Crowsnest Pass were among the first workers in Alberta to form unions. The novel takes place at a time when a coal miner’s job was arduous, unhealthy, and extremely dangerous. Just outside Fernie, BC, at the western end of the Crowsnest Pass, 128 miners died in an explosion at the Coal Creek mine on May 22, 1902. Although union agitation for a safer workplace made some improvements, another explosion killed 189 miners at Hillcrest on June 19, 1914, the worst mining disaster in Canadian history. In spite of their toil in such perilous conditions, early in the twentieth century coal miners earned only enough to support themselves. Although they played a critical role in the settlement of the West, by digging the coal that powered the steam trains, the miners suffered terribly under the coal company’s exploitation.

frank alberta glenbow archives na-414-2

Despite the oppression and hardship they faced, the people of the Crowsnest Pass formed tight community ties. Along with English-speaking Canadians, Ukrainian, Polish, and Italian immigrants settled in the area. Revelers flocked to events such as weddings, eager to dance to the music of the town band. Each settlement also had its own hockey and baseball team. Fraternal orders such as the Oddfellows supported their members in illness and death. It is this community that Lucille encounters upon arriving in Stony Point. While she finds the endless gossip tiresome at times it does help her in her search for her brother-in-law, and it provides the reader with a great example of frontier life in Canada.

For more information on Crowsnest Pass and the mining history of the area visit the Crowsnest Pass Historical Society’s website and the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre’s website

Thank you to the Glenbow Archive for providing the photograph.


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