Footlose in Vancouver
By Jerry W. Bird
The Mighty Yellowhead
THIS EDITION IS IN PROGRESS. MORE TO COME
Africa Travel Series
World Edition Previews
on the Sea to Sky Highway
by Jerry W. Bird
Britannia Beach, BC
Our Mining Heritage: On theSea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler-Blackcomb, is a unique tourist attraction, the museum at Britannia Beach. It's a salute to British Columbia's Mining industry and those who made their living underground. Leaving Vancouver's North Shore via the "Upper Levels" you round the bend at Horseshoe Bay, where the BC ferry fleet departs for Nanaimo, the Adventure Islands and Sunshine Coast, then weave northward along the aptly-named Sea-to-Sky highway, to Whistler and points beyond.
Leaving Vancouver's North Shore via the "Upper Levels" you round the bend at Horseshoe Bay, where the BC ferry fleet departs for Nanaimo, the Adventure Islands and Sunshine Coast, then weave northward along the aptly-named Sea-to-Sky highway, to Whistler and points beyond. Those who marvel at history and man's ingenuity will discover a real treasure at Britannia Beach, a few scenic miles along the cliff-hugging route. Here on the shores of Howe Sound, British Columbia's mining heritage is preserved intact at the Britannia Copper Mine, which served world markets from 1888 to the 1970s.
Survivor of fire, flood and avalanche, this hardy community harbors a national treasure, and has become a favorite location for major motion pictures. In a word - awesome! Little wonder most motorists make an abrupt stop for a close encounter, many staying for several hours of fun and exploration. For history buffs like me, the BC. Museum of Mining and adjacent area is a destination all by itself. In the boom days of the 1920s and '30s, Britannia was the largest producer of copper ore in the British Empire- a jewel in her imperial crown. Today, it's a National Historic Site destined to become a world-class venue for mining, geology and social history, thanks to a recent restoration program.'
Looming like a centurion at the entrance is a mammoth 235-ton Wabco "Super Truck" - part of a fleet which revolutionized low-grade mining worldwide. Guided tours begin with "The Britannia Story," featured in rock displays, ore samples, realistic models, maps, drawings, documents and artifacts. Along with the dramatic portrayal of hard-rock mining and other methods used in the province, you get a feeling for the human side of the industry, reflected in the life and times of workers and families. Displays on two other levels present an overview of British Columbia's rich mining heritage, plus a showcase on Craigmont, a copper mine in central BC. near Smithers.
While the dominant physical feature at Britannia Beach is the mine's enormous concentrator building, which sprawls for eight levels up the cliff side, the true highlight is your journey underground.
The mine train (which once toted its own privy) takes your group into the mountainside where you'll witness the "tried and true," as well as more current methods of drilling, blasting, mucking, sluicing and rock stabilization. Emerging from the mine, you'll have a close-up look inside the immense gravity-fed concentrator - a spectacular sight, and a regional landmark for more than 75 years. During peak operations, this monstrous complex processed more than 7,000 tons of ore daily, and is the only facility of its kind in North America still accessible to the public.
At the "Mining House", where all tours begin and end, you'll be treated to a "magic lantern" show - a slide presentation which traces Britannia's colorful history, recapping your experience inside the heart of Mt. Sheer.
A walking tour includes the Assay Office, containing a variety of rock creations donated for auction this fall. Across the way stands the "Ritz Hotel" and assorted mine buildings under restoration. As a token of your visit, the museum offers complimentary drill core samples, many of which date prior to the first world war. Later you can try gold panning.
The BC Museum of Mining is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. , Wednesdays through Sundays and legal holidays - from May until October. Britannia Beach is 45 minutes from Vancouver, and is served by Maverick Coach Lines (5 times daily) and by BC Rail.
During tourist season, there's a likely chance you'll
spot BC's most famous locomotive - The Royal Hudson,
an elegant steam train, which connects with the tour ship Britannia for an exciting day trip from Vancouver to nearby Squamish.
Another reminder of an earlier era at Britannia's dockside was the SS Prince George, once a proud member of Canadian National's Alaska fleet. Part of the "Britannia Opportunity" plan, is a pocket cruise dock, public pier and marina, along with an integrated transportation depot. The community features craft shops, an impressive live-action display of native Indian stone sculpture and several dining spots. We enjoyed a grand home-cooked meal recently, topped by a miner's sized slab of lemon meringue pie at the Tea Shop, a cozy corner of Canadiana.
BC. Museum of Mining, Box 188, Britannia Beach, BC VON 1JO.
phone(604) 688-8735., fax (604) 892-9152