Best ride ever: The hidden past of Crowsnest Pass

Tucked away in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, is Lille, a ghost town with an intriguing history


Lisa and Nathan Block smile from within their 2015 Polaris 900 RZR while their boxer Brooklyn sits on Nathan’s lap.

Lisa Block had her best ride ever while riding shotgun on her 2015 Polaris 900 RZR with her husband, Nathan, and boxer Brooklyn. — Photo courtesy Lisa Block

Crowsnest Pass in a popular ATVing destination in Alberta. But even those who have ridden through the area numerous times may not have uncovered its hidden treasures and rich lore. Among the myriad of trails that span through Crowsnest and southwest Alberta is Lille, a ghost town with an intriguing past.

Lisa Block, avid ATV adventurer from Lethbridge, Alberta, had her best day ever while riding her 2015 Polaris 900 RZR through the abandoned town with her husband, Nathan, boxer Brooklyn and some friends last fall.

“I highly recommend the trip to Lille,” she said. “The trail is in great condition and the history that is still there is worth seeing.”

Dilapidated coke ovens have narrow arches between slits of bricks.

The Bernard coke ovens were designed and prefabricated in Belgium and were the only Bernard-type coke ovens in Western Canada. Their remains can be found in Lille. — Photo courtesy Lisa Block

As tucked away as Lille is, it’s surprisingly accessible. The staging area is up a road behind the Frank Slide Interpretive Center. From there, a main trail leads right into Lille.

“It’s a very rider-friendly trail that is in great condition,” said Block. “The Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad have done a great job with trail maintenance as well as installing bridges and re-directing riders away from water crossings.” 

Scattered bricks line the route leading to where Lille once was. A Discover Crowsnest Heritage sign resides where the Lille Hotel used to be and includes old photos of the active coke ovens, a school class from 1910 and even a photo of the Lille hockey team from that same year.

“It was somewhat surreal to know that at one point in time, there was a town right there,” Block said. “People worked, went to school and recreated in this place that is now an open area with only reminders of the past. It was such a neat moment to take in.”

Lisa Block smiles next to her neon green and blue 2015 Polaris 900 RZR.

Lisa Block would’ve never had her best ride ever if not for her trusty 2015 Polaris 900 RZR. — Photo courtesy Lisa Block

Past the sign and hotel remnants is a hill that leads down to the remains of the Bernard coke ovens. The ovens were designed and prefabricated in Belgium and were the only Bernard-type coke ovens in Western Canada.

“We spent a good amount of time at the ovens, as they are incredible to see in person,” Block said. “There is also a large pile of waste coal from the mining operations of the town. Between the remnants of the coke ovens, the hill made of the remains of waste coal and a black bear sighting, we saw a little bit of everything that day.”

Block and her companions saw a lot that day, true, but there were still sights that went unseen.

“We already have plans to go back as it seems we’ve missed bits and pieces of the experience,” said Block. “After talking to the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, it turns out there is still much to see, including the falls on the creek and a graveyard.

“Take your time getting there and enjoy the views. Once you’re there, take it all in.” 

Brooklyn the boxer places a paw on Nathan Block’s knee as he drives an ATV.

It’s a lot easier to have your best ride ever when you’re with your best buds. — Photo courtesy Lisa Block

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