A family visit to the Britannia Mine Museum

This is one museum that never gets boring

by DaleAnn Shellborn

Halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., on the Sea-to-Sky Highway is the Britannia Mine Museum, an attraction that illustrates the importance of mining without ever getting boring. From the dramatic recycled-metal sculpture in the entry building to the 20-storey concentrator, the museum presents a hands-on and heartfelt salute to what was once the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth.

My husband and I visited this National Historic Site with our two teenagers, a sure test of any museum’s entertainment factor. The train ride into the centre of the mountain was their favourite activity, closely followed by panning for gold and gems.

Beginning below

It’s suggested that visitors start with the underground tour. After hiking up to a platform, everyone gets in a railcar with a well-trained guide and puts on a hard hat. They travel into the dark in a journey that replicates that taken by miners of years gone by. The impenetrable darkness, the high decibels of a drill, the toilet car that would come around twice every shift—everything illustrates the working life of an underground miner.

The guided part of the tour ends at the concentrator, an iconic building with thousands of windows that shine as the sun sets over Howe Sound. The towering interior of the mill looks like a movie set—maybe because it is. Several movies and TV shows have been filmed in this grand yet somehow eerie space.

The concentrator definitely dominates the museum site, but there are other equally fascinating things to look at. In a refurbished building that once served as the mine office, you can see the human side of life of a small mining town in the early 20th century. Sports trophies and black-and-white photographs are poignant reminders that this isolated community was a real home to dozens of families.

Another building houses art displays curated to relate to the mining industry and how it affects our daily life. Several shows are exhibited each year, and the museum also hosts other arts-related events, most notably the annual Copper and Fire festival.

Sparkling stones and giant trucks 

Staff will help you learn to pan for gold, and if you’re like my kids you’ll go home with a couple of glittering flakes and some tiny semi-precious stones. If your pan comes up empty, walk into the gift shop—appropriately called the Company Store—and buy one of the many samples of minerals from around the world.

Smaller children will enjoy a well-designed playground. The gigantic mining truck with its massive tires is a popular place for snapshots, and in the snack bar you can look at pictures of the actors who’ve filmed movies here.

The Britannia Mine Museum received a sort of people’s choice award this year when it was named a top destination by the TripAdvisor travel website. Many visitors report a positive experience at the museum and appreciation for the well-trained staff. The museum site is tidy, well organized and interesting for all ages. Perhaps more importantly, it is a reminder of what the mining industry means to British Columbia.

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