The Britannia Mine Museum is re-launching next weekend after a name change (from the BC Mining Museum), refreshed logo, and updated visitor experience on the grounds of the old Britannia Mine, about 10km south of Squamish.
John and I were invited up for the day to check out the grounds, the new buildings, and go underground to see what the life of a miner at Britannia was like.
The mine-site was established as a National Historic Site and a BC Historic Landmark in the early 1970s but it began its life in 1904. It soon grew to become the largest copper mine in the British Empire and at one point, produced 17% of the world’s copper.
The new visitor’s centre leads out into a courtyard of old wooden buildings huddled together with a boardwalk, rocky pathway, and remnants of giant metal machines from an era gone-by.
Heading into the new information centre, the sound of metal-on-rock guides you through a quick corridor featuring equipment and hologram-like shadows of miners. You can duck around a corner to watch their new feature film, which we both really enjoyed. As far as movies in museums go, every bit of information provided was interesting on many levels.
Walking out into a hall you can peek at minerals and precious metals on display; from meteorite to quartz on rhodochrosite. You’ll also learn about how the mine cleaned up its act since it was one of North Americaâ€™s largest sources of heavy metal pollution (straight into the waters of Howe Sound) for 70 years.
After playing with interactive displays with sliding touch-screens you can head outdoors once again to walk over to the old Administration Building. Here you’ll find an “A-Z” of life at Britannia and at the Mount Sheer townsite. There are antiques, such as old counting machines and drama club trophies and even lost love letters. You’ll quickly notice that the museum focuses on two main aspects; mining (how it works, what it does, how it’s evolved), and life as a miner (history, life, and love in Britannia Beach & the Mount Sheer townsite).
Stories of community gatherings, tales of tragedy, and all that was involved with life in Howe Sound during the first half of the last century fill the museum’s walls and display cases.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the highway was constructed and connected the townsites to Vancouver. Until that time, for about 50 years, the only way in and out of Britannia was by pack horse over the mountains or steamship direct to Vancouver. Aside from the isolation, the entire area was owned by the mine so daily life revolved around the work and the company.
Once you weave your way through the buildings you can pick up a hard hat at the Copper Sulphate building and head up toward the Mining House for an underground tour that will take you through the side of the mountain.
The 30 minute guided tour starts off on a train that leads you through the face of the hillside, through a small portion of the 200km of tunnels that make up the mine. The guide explains how things worked in the tunnels and demonstrates some noisy machinery used by the miners. It’s a really neat experience but if you’re claustrophobic you may not like the first part of the tour, when you lose sight of daylight on either side of the tunnel. However, such was the extreme life of a miner — and the experience they are going for with the tour.
After the tunnel, our guide took us through the Core Shed, and the iconic Mill 3 building. It’s the building that you can see from the Sea to Sky highway and has also been a set for many films and TV shows (from X Files to 21 Jumpstreet and Double Jeopardy).
There we learned several more processes and by the end of the tour, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how solid stone could be mined, milled, and turned into pure concentrate powder, ready to be shipped out to the smelter.
Other activities at the museum including gold panning workshops, performances, and a stroll through the gift shop. I noticed that since they are in the middle of re-branding, anything with a “BC Mining Museum” logo was 50% off.
What I loved most about our visit was that among the dirt, dust, heavy metal, and rusted machinery, the museum incorporates the softer side of Britannia in their exhibits. The love, the family, the sense of community, and the softer human elements of the mine — not just the cold hard stone. That, and it gave me more of an education about the region’s history, which I always find fascinating.
The Britannia Mine Follow them on Twitter @BritanniaMine and make a point to stop in during your next trip up the Sea to Sky, or make it your family’s next day-trip destination.
If you would like to visit the mine, I have a family pack of passes to give away (good for 2 adults and up to 3 children). The passes will be valid for the next 12 months so you can plan your visit anytime. Here’s how to enter:
I will draw one winner September 22nd at 12:00pm.
Update The winner is Paul McEwan (@PaulMcEwan) – have fun at the mine with your family!