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Lille

Restless alpine ghosts brave modern intruders in... Lille.

On most days from late spring to early fall, visitors to the remarkable ghost town of Lille in the mountainous wilderness of Alberta's Crowsnest Pass easily achieve moments of peace and serenity like none seldom experienced. The eight-kilometre half-day trip to Lille along Grassy Mountain Road, which begins behind the Frank Slide Interpretative Centre, is a leisurely breathtaking hike, offering visitors scores of historical points of interest and countless opportunities to marvel at the spectacular scenery. And it is mostly quiet, except when all-terrain vehicles are blasting down the trails and into the former Lille town and mine sites, forever scarring the magnificent landscape and the rapidly disappearing historical evidence of Lille. The latter is a sad reminder of Alberta's weak heritage preservation laws.

Lille fire hydrant with Frank Slide in the background Miner's home foundation
©Johnnie Bachusky
©Johnnie Bachusky
When Lille closed, many miners and their families moved eight kilometres south to Frank. In the background is Turtle Mountain, site of the infamous Frank Slide.
A foundation from a miner's home.
The Lille townsite is currently a designated Alberta Heritage Resource; legislation designed to protect historical provincial sites, including the former Crowsnest Pass coal mining community. However, motorized recreational enthusiasts ride unimpeded over the mine and town sites. Many years ago, fences were built around the coke oven and hotel ruins but they have long been toppled, and then ignored.
Now barren Lille townsite Bedframe from former Lille home
©Johnnie Bachusky
©Johnnie Bachusky
Today, the Lille townsite is barren and littered with debris.
A bed frame is all that is left of one former Lille home.

Lille was originally founded in 1901 by J.J. Fleutot and C. Remey, gold prospectors with British Columbia's United Gold Fields. In the beginning, the settlement was known as French Camp. In 1902, a spur line from French camp to Frank was built along Gold Creek.

Although the line was completed early in 1903, the final portion of the track was buried in the tragic Frank Slide in April of that year. The original construction of the line, which included 23 trestles, and the subsequent repairs required from the Frank Slide forced investors to seek a major infusion of capital. Fleutot and Remey found new investors, mostly from France, and the mine became the West Canadian Collieries Ltd. Since most of the new investors came from the French town called Lille, the new Crowsnest Pass community was then renamed in its honour.

Lille town map
A map of Lille shows that while the lifespan of the town was short, its layout was carefully planned.
Map courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books (Calgary, AB), "Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass", by Jane Ross & William Tracy.
Ruins of former hotel Hotel ruins
©Johnnie Bachusky
©Johnnie Bachusky
Above: The ruins of Lille's former hotel are the ghost town's most impressive remains at the former townsite. After the town closed, many of the hotel's furnishings were taken away to other Crowsnest Pass communities.
Hotel ruins Hotel Ruins
©Johnnie Bachusky
©Johnnie Bachusky
The ruins of Lille's hotel were once protected by a fence by it too has been vandalized and no longer offers any protection for this provincially protected heritage resource.
Townsite remnants Store foundation
©Johnnie Bachusky
A foundation from one of the stores at Lille.
©Johnnie Bachusky
Throughout the townsite, remnants from the past are evident.
Wood frames litter the townsite Residential ruins
©Johnnie Bachusky
The ruins of the fading Lille residential district.

By 1907, Lille was proving to be a huge alpine coal mining success. There were already 400 permanent citizens, serviced with a bakery, hotel, livery stable, school, liquor store, general store, post office, hospital, rooming house, doctor's office, butcher shop and a barber shop.

©Johnnie Bachusky
Scattered wood frames litter the old townsite.