Towering in the distance, just off the spectacular Sea-to-Sky highway, Britannia Mine Museum’s monumental Mill 3 is hard to miss. One of 17 buildings on the site of this unique heritage site, Mill 3 was once the heartbeat of the North American copper mining industry; today, the building remains, educating the future through engaging and interactive programs and exhibits.
With over 70,000 visitors a year, the 10 acre site has two goals: teaching others about mining itself (how it was done and how it has evolved), and explaining what life was like for the miners and local community who called the area home.
In the early 1970’s, the site of the Britannia Mine was established as a National Historic Site and a B.C. Historic Landmark. The story of the mine, however, goes back all the way to 1904, when it first began operation. By 1929, the mine had grown to become the largest copper mine in the British Empire, producing 17% of the world’s copper. Aside from copper, the mill also extracted gold, silver, lead, zinc, and cadmium. Over 60,000 people from 50 different countries lived and worked in the area.
In the late 1950’s, a highway was constructed that linked the town sites with Vancouver. Previously, the site was very isolated; the only way in and out was by steamship or pack horse over the mountains. Because of this isolation, daily life revolved around the mine and company.
The first stop on our journey through the Britannia Mine Museum was the underground tour. After grabbing a hardhat, we climbed aboard a mine train and took a trip through the rocky hillside and into a small section of one of the over 200 km of tunnels that make up the mine itself. On our tour, the guide described the ins and outs of early mining. Here, miners worked in very tight and confined spaces, in almost complete darkness. Aside from explaining the processes involved in blasting, drilling, and ore removal, they even fired up some of the equipment; the noise coming from the compressed-air diamond drill was ear-splitting, but gave us all a better idea of what life would have been like in the dark tunnels.
After exiting the tunnel, we were taken into the iconic Mill 3. The mill itself is spectacular in scale. While huge, the 20 stories are made even more incredible when one realizes the fact that it was built in 1921, in an area that was only accessible by boat until 1956. Mill 3 is one of the last gravity-fed concentrater mills remaining in North America. Several different movies and television shows have used this building as a backdrop, including X Files, 21 Jump Street, and Scooby Doo 2.
After the tour, we spent some time checking out the different exhibits housed in different buildings around the site. Through interactive displays, the kids had the opportunity to learn more about mining, and the role it plays in our day to day lives. They loved checking out, and climbing on, all of the historic machinery.
The Gold Panning Pavilion was a trip highlight for the kiddos. They were quite excited about being able to splash around in the troughs, looking for nuggets to bring home with them.
When our time at the Britannia Mine was complete, we had a new appreciation for the mining industry, and the people who once called the area home. We highly recommend the tour to anyone looking for engaging educational experiences while visiting the Squamish area.
The Britannia Mine can be found just off of the Sea-to-Sky highway, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler.
Adult: $29, Youth 13-18: $23, Child 5-12: $18.50, Child 5 and under: Free, Family (2 adults, 3 kids): $105
-Bring a sweater if you plan on doing the underground tour, as it can be a bit chilly inside the mountain.
-The underground tour involves confined spaces and short but loud noises. There is also a point when the lights are turned off, to show how dark it really was inside the mine. If you are claustrophobic at all, or have little ones with you who you think might get frightened by the noise or darkness, you may want to skip the underground tour and check out the other exhibits instead.
-Plan on spending about 1-2 hours at the site, and possibly more, to experience everything the museum has to offer.