Visiting Blairmore, Alberta: Idyllically Situated, Peaceful Community by the Rockies, With a Turbulent History
Picturesque setting; memories of Stalinists and Prohibition-era tragedy
[This visit occurred some years ago.]
Blairmore, Alberta, is located in an idyllic-seeming setting close to the Rockies. Several high peaks are clearly visible from the locality; and its relative proximity to Crowsnest Pass at the Continental Divide leading to British Columbia has meant that historically this community has been close to travel and trading routes.
I was particularly struck by the scenic location of the local Tim Hortons franchise! It is probable that the spectacular setting of this local franchise of a quintessentially Canadian business must be among the most impressive in existence, with high peaks of the Rockies as a backdrop (1).
Blairmore is now part of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, but the small community close to the Canadian Pacific Railway, previously known as Tenth Siding, was given the name Blairmore in 1898. As well as the proximity of the railway, until the 1950s the mining industry heavily influenced the character of the community (see also re. Coleman, below).
The town has at times experienced highly varied periods in its history. Its town council in the 1930s was Communist, as was its local school board. Its principal street was called Tim Buck Avenue (named for the Beccles, England-born, Stalinist leader of Canada's Communists) and a local recreational facility was called Karl Marx Park.
A rather different sort of event occurred during the Prohibition era. The proximity of Crowsnest Pass made the strong supply and demand factor for illegal trade in liquor a compellingly tempting factor in the involvement of some of the townsfolk. A Blairmore businessman and Alderman Emilio Picariello (1875/79-1923) and an accomplice Florence Lassando (1900-1923) were convicted and hanged for the murder of a police officer, although it was never conclusively established who bore ultimately responsibility for the use of the weapon involved in the crime. The convicted defendants were in one way or another undoubtedly involved heavily in the illicit liquor trade, the banning of which in Alberta a few years beforehand was strongly influenced, among others, by women's groups. However, the deaths of a number of Alberta police officers in Prohibition-related incidents, and the hanging of Florence Lassando, aged 23 — the only woman ever hanged in Alberta — led to a series of public outcries in the Province. The cumulative result was that, within months of the hangings, Prohibition was rescinded in Alberta, it being evidently judged not worth the continuing paying of the price of sanguinary disruption involved in its enforcement. Peter B. Smith writes the following, grim assessment of this outcome: 'Who knows what the women of the temperance movement must have thought of the irony—a bullet from the gun of a woman had wiped out all their hard work.' (2)(3)
But despite the turbulent — and, indeed, amazing — history of Blairmore, no one can detract from the sheer, spectacular backdrop to its Tim Hortons franchise, situated close to Alberta (Crowsnest) Highway 3!
April 6, 2020
(1) I suppose that whatever the scenery is like in Kandahar, Afghanistan — where the Canadian Forces formerly served and which Tim Hortons followed there — may be comparable!
(3) Similar, highly disturbing, incidents in Ontario, related to the human cost of enforcing Prohibition, contributed to leading the Ontario legislature to repeal comparable legislation in that Province.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
Coleman (within the municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Alberta) has an interesting local history museum and gift shop, which specializes in the mining heritage of the region.
Frank (also within the municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Alberta) has a poignant interpretive centre commemorating a devastating rock fall which considerably obliterated much of the town of Frank in 1903.
Sparwood, British Columbia (distance: approx. 20 kilometres from Crowsnest Pass); home to what is known as 'the largest truck in the world', a Titan on permanent display; Sparwood, on the Elk River, is known for its large murals depicting life at the former mining communities of Michel and Natal; there are various campsites locally.
How to get there
One of the nearest international airports to the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is Cranbrook / Canadian Rockies International Airport (road distance to Crowsnest Pass: approx. 145 kilometres), to which Air Canada flies, via Vancouver, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. The much larger Calgary International Airport (distance: approx. 230.2 kilometres), with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. Air Canada also flies to Lethbridge Airport (distance: approx. 144.5 kilometres), via Calgary, from where car rental is also available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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