100 Years Later: Telling the Hillcrest Mine Disaster Story

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100 Years Later: Telling the Hillcrest Mine Disaster Story

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster in 1914, Alberta Culture and the Frank Slide Interpretive Center approached NGX about creating an interactive experience that would tell the story of this historic tragedy – Canada’s worst mining disaster.

On June 19, 1914, in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, 189 men died in an explosion that rocked Hillcrest Mine. Ninety women lost their husbands and upwards of 250 children lost their fathers in a town of only 1,000 residents. Most of the victims were buried in a mass grave at the Hillcrest Cemetery. After a series of government inquiries, no definitive cause of the explosion was ever determined.

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Photo: Frank Slide Interpretive Centre

In order to tell this tragic story, we knew we needed to communicate the facts, while at the same time connect with visitors on an emotional level. The exhibit had to be more than just historical documents, facts and figures; it was paramount that we immersed visitors in the scene and provided personal perspectives from Hillcrest residents who experienced the tragic event.

The exhibit itself consists of a multi-touch screen embedded in a vintage desk from 1914. The home screen of the software was painstakingly designed to look like the top-down view of Chief Mine Inspector Stirling’s desk, complete with an inkwell and fountain pen, stamp pad, safety lamp, pieces of coal, and cup of coffee – all of which animate in response to touch and immerse the visitor in the scene.

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Featured prominently on the desktop are three elements that act as key entry points into the exhibit’s content: a stack of newspapers, a scrapbook, and an inquiries clipboard. These objects represent three different aspects of the Disaster: the events as they unfolded, the ramifications of the Disaster, and the inquiries that transpired after the Disaster, respectively. Visitors are encouraged to explore these elements freely and at their own pace as they piece together the story of the Disaster.

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The newspaper section gives visitors the opportunity to flip through and explore original front pages of six newspapers from the days following the Disaster.  A magnifying glass allows for a closer view of the articles, and pop-out notes to the side provide additional tidbits of information, while a quiz disguised as a war-time propaganda poster tests visitors on their knowledge of the events.

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The scrapbook section features expandable photos, hand-written notes, telegraph messages, government documents, and newspaper clippings – all presented in a way that transports the visitor back to that era.  Written from the perspective of a Hillcrest resident, the scrapbook offers a personal glimpse into the lives of those left behind after the Disaster. The pages of the scrapbook explore various themes related to the aftermath of the Disaster, including condolences, compensation, the heartbreaking stories of the widows and children, and how families of the victims managed to move on.

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The inquiries section outlines the key players involved in the investigations following the Disaster, the questions that were asked, the evidence that was presented, and the final outcome of the inquiries.  Visitors can piece together the evidence by flipping through snippets of revealing testimony, exploring detailed maps of the mine, and learning how various components of a mine operate.

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This exhibit is a great example of combining the old with the new to create a seamless interactive story. Featuring a 21st century touchscreen embedded in a vintage 1914 desk, high quality digital scans of historical documents, and 3D re-creations of early 20th century desktop objects, new and old elements work together to not only communicate the story of the Disaster, but also to immerse the visitor in the story and place them in the shoes of those who experienced the tragic events.

If you’re interested in checking out the Hillcrest Mine Disaster exhibit in person, The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is located in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta and is open daily 9am to 6pm during the summer, and 10am to 5pm the rest of the year.

– Jason Clarke, Content Strategist

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