On the last day of April, I had a chance to visit the Britannia Mine Museum, which main site is a 21-storey building built on a hill and everyone coming or returning from Whistler to Vancouver can see it from a distance.
The Britannia Mine began after copper was discovered in these areas. Operations started in 1900 and before long, a small town near Britannia Beach also cropped up.
Full operations began in 1905 and it provided 17% of the world’s copper at one point.
Work continued until 1970 when new pollution laws, lower copper prices, and unions among other things made the mine unprofitable.
We took the sea to sky highway but before the highway and the train, this little community can only be accessed through boat.
Almost 99% of the rocks they took from this hill to make copper were actually ‘wastes’ and with no pollution laws in place, they were discharged into the waters below. Britannia Beach was highly polluted and at one point, no fish can survive in these waters. Thanks to recent reclamation work, fishes were introduced back into these waters for the first time in almost 100 years (some info).
A year after the site was shut down, it reopened again as a museum. The admission rate for this attraction is $29.00 for an adult.
The machines and even some copper samples used for testing are still on the site, but obviously not in use. The best part of the attraction was the guided tour, which is included in the admission but is allocated by time. So in the mean time, we walked around.
We walked around and panned for gold.
There is also a Britannia A to Z Historical Exhibits … It not only details the every day life of the miners but also the community, which despite its isolation, still had many activities and clubs going on.
Finally, it was our turn to go take the train ride. Lucky, we went early because we had to walk a little and climb up stairs.
On a small train, the tour guide showed us where the dynamites were put and the conditions under the mine. Here, dynamites were put in a red color box with a lamp inside to prevent the waters from sweeping into the dynamite and causing an explosion.
He showed us some drills and even demonstrated one of them. There were three types of drills over the years, the first was used in the 1904 and was the worse, it was heavy, noisy, and kicks up dust that enters the lungs and causing health issues. It was termed ‘the widow maker’.
These miners only had candles and items looking like oil lamps to guide them through these dark areas. In the dim lighting, they have to drill into assigned markers for 8 hours straight.
In another tunnel, the tour guide explained to us, the muckers or the ones who moved the rocks after the dynamite blast. In the beginning, they were given a shovel and a quota for rock removal but machines were brought in later for more efficiency.
After the tunnel, we went to Mill 3, the factory that breaks down the rocks from boulders to fine powder.
Copper rocks and demonstrations …
I thought the guide at the museum was really good. I couldn’t really get myself interested in mining otherwise.
After that, we were on our way to our next destination, the scenic Sea to Sky Gondola.