Sunday, November 13, 2011

Britannia Mine Museum

On our way home from Whistler, we stopped to check out the Britannia Mine Museum just south of Squamish.  Britannia was once the largest copper mine in the British Empire, producing more than 50 million tons of ore during its operation from 1904 to 1974.  There are over 210 km of tunnel around Britiannia.  We rode a mine train into a historical tunnel to see where and how miners worked back in the day...

"Man Car" 

Up to 12 men would cramp in a man car and travel up to 45 minutes to get to work.  It also served as the lunch room if the work location was very wet.
"Mucking Machine"

Muck was rock that was blasted free. This machine could move 16 to 20 tons of rock an hour.  Before it came to Britannia in the early 1920's, two miners could move the same amount of muck using "muck sticks", i.e. shovels, in a 12-hour shift.
"Widow Maker"

This super heavy Wood Drill was the first drill to run on compressed air.  It made an aweful noise that caused miners to go deaf, and the rock dust it produced could scar the lungs and lead to silicosis, a fatal disease.  Hence the apt nickname.
"Honey Wagon"

How would you like to roll this lovely wagon to every miner twice during each 8-hour shift? No doors, no toilet paper. Well, at least it was dark in the mine. A surely quick way to get the new workers assigned to the job to meet everyone and figure out the mine layout!
After we emerged from the tunnel, we were taken to the 20-storey high historical Mill No.3. A big bucket called "the Skip" rode like an elevator up and down carrying supplies & equipments. The Skip had no brakes so workers were not allowed to ride it, leaving them to take the stairs - all 375 steps from bottom to top.
Our tour guide gave us an introduction to the "concentrating" process of separating minerals from the waste rock or "tailings". This pioneering system was developed at Britannia and gave a very high metal recovery rate.
Serena's favourite part of the tour - Gold Panning! "Scoop it, shake it, dip it, and fill it".  Serena took home a few bits of souvenirs which made the trip all the more memorable!


  1. Wow .It must have been a big mine
    Love the gold panning pictures
    Very intense from the look on her face
    Nanny & Papa

  2. Hi, I'm the Curator at the Museum. I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself. We love it when visitors share what they've learned online - you've got great photos. Hope you'll visit us another time.

  3. Thanks for your comment! The mine was an excellent field trip, we were all very impressed and learned a lot about this part of B.C.'s history. We'll be back and bring other friends!

  4. Excellent. If you haven't already done so, check out the Resources section on our website where you'll find more info on the mine, its key people and how some of the processes work (like concentrating) -

  5. Awesome, thanks for the link, Diane!