Come On, Miners! The Britannia Mine Museum
Thanks to a BOGO Groupon deal, I was enticed to buy tickets to the Britannia Mine Museum during our trip to Vancouver this past December. Of course, it wasn’t until after I bought the deal that I realized that the museum is located in the middle of nowhere halfway between Vancouver and Whistler off of the notorious Highway 99, also known as the Sea to Sky Highway, in Britannia Beach, population 300. Not ones to waste a deal, Jave and I made our way to Vancouver’s Greyhound station to make the trek.
Station where we caught the Greyhound in Vancouver
The ride to the museum from Vancouver only takes about an hour. There was no time to catch a nap on the way up because we were far too distracted by the beauty we encountered. To our right there were views of lush, roadside waterfalls spilling out of random rock crevices. And to our left were images from a picture book – views of Gambier Island sitting in the cold waters of Horseshoe Bay, Lions Bay, and Howe Sound, set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains. It was all too stunning to handle, and we “oohed” and “aahed” our way up the coast! My only regret is that we don’t have any good pictures to marvel at.
Once in Britannia Beach, we explored the ghost town’s not-so-distant past when the Britannia Mine Museum, formerly known as the British Columbia Museum of Mining, was the largest copper producer in the British Commonwealth.
The highlight of our visit was the 45-minute tour of the mine led by our exuberant British tour guide whose name escapes me.
“Come on miiiiners!!” she’d exclaim in her strong British accent – an unexpectedly strong voice for such a petite woman!
Our guide was excellent as she gave us the chance to experience the mine as the miners did, complete with a chance to ride through an authentic tunnel aboard a mine train while she explained how the mine operated during the last century.
She even operated a few of the powerful drills for us which left our ears ringing, driving home the fact that many miners lost their hearing due to listening to the shrill of those drills for long work hours.
Not only did the miners work for long hours, but they also worked in the pitch black with only weak-shining candles to light their way. And when they had to use the bathroom, freshman miners trying to work their way up the mining ladder, were responsible for wheeling around this portable toilet.
When the miners needed privacy, they just blew out their candles so that no one could watch them taking care of their business.
Next, our guide took us to a shed where we got to see how the miners kept track of their discoveries. Mineral samples were cataloged with a notation made of exactly where in the mine the sample was taken from. Geologists would then test the samples to see whether the miners had discovered something worth drilling for. If so, the miners knew exactly where to keep drilling.
The last stop on our tour was to Mill No. 3 which was built after Mill No. 2 burned down. In this mill, the waste rock was separated from valuable minerals. A froth flotation method was used to separate the good from the bad which resulted in 520 pounds of copper per ton of ore. Not bad!
The look of the mill has made it a prized location for films and television shows including Scooby Doo, the X-Files, and Underworld 2.
The museum itself also features interactive exhibits, including a gold-panning exhibit, displays, and the Company Store where you can buy a keepsake.
Back when the mine was operating, the Company Store charged outrageous prices knowing that in such an isolated town, the miners had no other option but to purchase from it. Although the miners earned excellent wages, most were indebted to the Company Store.
Overall, our excursion to the Britannia Mine Museum was well worth the ride up as it was very interesting to see what life in Britannia Beach was like not so long ago!