Ghost town trek: Lille, Alberta.

The spookiest part of hiking into Lille isn’t the fact that your destination is a ghost town…it’s that the trailhead keeps shifting around in a sinister manipulation of time and space.  It’s as if the place wants to protect all of its secrets and remain hidden in the dark, quiet* woods.

Either that, or my hubby and I are just terrible route finders.

We did as the guide book said: we parked in the meadow that we easily located after passing by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in Frank, Alberta, in the heart of the Crowsnest Pass.  We thought we had it all down pat as we jogged up the cutline past the accoutrements of oil and gas activity and headed towards Goat (also called Bluff) Mountain.  Although we read in the book that we were to hang a left at “any obvious junction,” we thought the gravel road that the people in the SUV were driving down couldn’t possibly be accurate (who hikes along a ROAD?), so we kept ploughing onward until we had to bushwack through a huge grove of wind-stunted aspens and we kinda sorta got the inkling that we might be going the wrong way.

We ended up climbing part of Goat Mountain that day.  After a few hours of being blasted by wind and scraped by trees, we conceded defeat and went to the Interpretive Centre to ask for directions.  (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking).

We made our second attempt to find the unfindable town of Lille the next morning.  Guess which road it was on?  Apparently, most people don’t hike all the way in – they drive in!  If you have a 4×4 or an ATV, you can navigate the numerous creek crossings and not have to hoof any bit of it at all.  We chose to park our truck (she of the delicate constitution) where the road degenerated into a goat path and walked the rest of the way.  And although our efforts were nearly thwarted by The Only Slightly Wobbly Bridge of Doom,

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The Swamp of Skeletal Trees,

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The Red Herrings (I mean Red Crabapples) Designed to Throw Us Off the Trail,

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and the Devilishly Dangerous Free Range Cattle,

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we eventually found the No. 1 Mine Site at Lille, as well as the townsite.

Construction on the town began in 1901 by the British Columbia-based company Gold Fields Ltd..  There had been hope for gold deposits in the clear-running creeks, but the lure of big coal was worth setting up camp for.  One of the founders of the company, J.J. Fleutot, managed to secure funding from financiers in the city of Lille, France, and so formed the West Canadian Collieries Ltd. to manage the burgeoning mines.  A railway was built, which you can still see the spectral impressions of today (unless I’m wrong, and these mounds are instead the work of some insanely large and industrious dew worms):

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One of the interpretive signs indicated that the railway had a mind-boggling 23 trestles over the distance of only 11 kilometres (the area sits near the confluence of three generously sized creeks).  A good chunk of the railroad was damaged during the Frank Slide in 1903, which cut off the town of Lille and crippled its industry until it was rebuilt.

By 1906, Lille was a proper town, with a hotel, a school, and a hospital.  The population peaked somewhere around 400 in its heyday, but by 1912, it was all over when the coke market went into decline.  The mine was closed and everyone living in the town moved on.

Now, Lille is just bits and pieces in a cow pasture, but you can walk (or, apparently, roar* your ATV or dirt bike) among the foundations and wonder about the past.

The Seriously Scary Window (Chute?) in the Wall at the No. 1 Mine site.

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The Guts of the Formerly Three Storey Hotel.

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The Really Creepy Fire Hydrant Out in the Middle of Nowhere.

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And, most impressively, the Decaying Coke Ovens, which were built of bricks manufactured in Belgium.  The bricks were numbered and shipped to Lille, where they were reassembled in what I imagine was sort of like an IKEA build on a massive scale, only without the hex-key wrenches.

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Oh yeah, and because it’s Hallowe’en and this is a story about a ghost town, here is a photo of the bones of something that obviously couldn’t find the trailhead to Lille, either.  Yikes – sure glad we asked for directions!   😉

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Happy Hallowe’en!  Have you ever spent any time in a ghost town?

Link:  The History of Hallowe’en in Alberta – Trick or Treat (Retroactive)

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42 thoughts on “Ghost town trek: Lille, Alberta.

  1. Goodness you are adventurous what an exciting story. That bridge would have defeated me. And even if I had got across the bridge, I would never have made it past the cows.

    • That bridge was seriously scary – I was terrified! I didn’t feel any better when I had to cross it again on the way back. 😉

      The cows were waiting for their breakfast and were wondering what on earth we were doing in “their” pasture. They couldn’t seem to figure out why we hadn’t brought any hay with us.

  2. Reblogged this on Prairie Heart Gypsy Soul and commented:
    Not only is this an awesome post for HalIowe’en – I can’t wait to head back to Waterton and the Crowsnest Pass area this summer. Lille is definitely getting a spot on our “itinerary.”

  3. What a great story and perfect for the day! Seems a bit too creepy for me. I’m sure I would have declared defeat at the bridge.

    • That bridge was not for the faint of heart, for sure! My hubby – who is much more daring than I am – went across it just as calm as you please, so I figured I could make it, too. But I was protesting the entire time!

  4. It certainly does seem spooky, and coupled with the bit about following the wrong route It would make me wonder… how many people have vanished on that mountain…? 😉
    Happy Halloween weekend Sheryl!

    • I actually walked up and down the bank scoping for shallow, calm water so I could walk across the creek instead. But my hubby was very encouraging, so I braved the bridge – and felt like a champion after I had gotten back onto solid land! 😉

  5. What an amazing walk and destination–this is all such fun to read! I had to laugh about getting lost–it seems like every single time my husband and I go for a hike, we end up lost, too, with or without the help of a guidebook! I’m glad you persevered and found the ghost town!

    • I’m so glad to hear we’re not the only ones who cannot find trailheads! I always read about really experienced hikers who have sort of a gut instinct about what route to take when faced with multiple paths or a fork in the road…my hubby and I apparently have a long way to go before we get to that stage, LOL!

    • Very cool! I love the idea of biking the Old Ghost Road and seeing Lyell and the other four ghost towns – what a great experience that would be! 80 km of trails is a good distance, though, so you’d have to be a dedicated cyclist and bring gear for camping. Is it possible to drive into (or near) Lyell using a different route?

  6. What a great adventure, Sheryl. So pleased that you and your husband found Lille and that you took those fabulous pictures so we could journey with you. An intriguing story about a ghost town. THANKS.

  7. Hey there, Sheryl:

    Thank you for wakening the idea of visiting Lille; it’s been a long while since I’ve been on outtrip among the mountains in the Crowsnest area.

    Thank you, also, for many other photos on your blog that remind of the mountains.

    Take care … 😉

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