November 2010

Restoring the past

Britannia Mine Museum receives makeover

By Steve Stecyk

Britannia Mine Museum

As part of its upgrade project, the 20-storey historic mill building had all of its 14,416 window panes restored | Photo courtesy of Brittania Mine 

 A piece of B.C. mining history was restored this fall with the re-opening of the new Britannia Mine Museum. The museum has just completed the second phase of a three-stage redevelopment project using $14.7 million that it received in donations from the federal and provincial governments as well as from mining industry companies and executives.

The previously named BC Museum of Mining, located 40 kilometres north of Vancouver, is the site of the former Britannia Mine that had been in operation for nearly 70 years and was once the largest copper producer in the British Commonwealth. The last shift at the mine was in 1974; in 1988 it was declared a national historic site.

The museum project offers visitors a glimpse into what life was like for the 60,000 people who worked and lived in the town during the life of the mine, and also showcases the seven decades of mining history in the Britannia Beach community. The site now boasts a brand new visitor centre, courtesy of donations from Lukas Lundin of Lundin Mining and Ross Beaty, CEO of Magma Energy Corp. The Beaty-Lundin Visitor Centre houses the theatrical mining exhibits, a mineral gallery, a theatre space and a gift shop, as well the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

The museum had its grand opening in September and Kirsten Clausen, its executive director, is very pleased with the renewed interest that it is now receiving. “We have really noticed a big difference in dwell time of folks,”said Klausen. “They come thinking, ‘ok let’s go spend an hour with the family, and we’ll do this.’ And three hours later, you see them leaving and they’ve got smiles on their faces.”

The museum has received a strong financial support from the mining community. Over 24 donors — ranging from associations to legal firms to operations — have donated money to the project.

But that was not the case at the outset, when the project began eight years ago. “The initial response was divided,” said Michael McPhie, director at the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia and co-chair of the Britannia Beach Historical Society. “Certain individuals, along with the industry, felt it would be better just to tear all the old buildings down and cover the area with grass and move on. But then there was a core component of the industry that thought it was a very iconic, important part of B.C.’s history. And really, I think the turning point for the project came primarily by the initial contribution by Teck Corporation.”

Teck’s $750,000 donation was matched by Placer Dome (Placer Dome was bought by Barrick Gold, the year the donation was given). An additional $2 million was raised by industry individuals and companies. The funds, matched by the federal and provincial governments, were earmarked for the restoration of the historic mill building, which remains the centrepiece of the mine.

The mill, a 20-storey building, contains one of the last remaining gravity- fed concentrator mills in North America. In its prime, it processed 700 tonnes of copper a day, as well as gold, silver, lead, zinc and cadmium. A five million dollar boost in 2007 allowed the structure’s foundations to be secured, and its 14,416 window panes, roof and siding replaced or restored.

The Britannia Mine Museum has an intact network of tunnels spanning 210 kilometres that visitors can explore using an underground train ride that gives them “a-day-in-a-miner’s-life” experience. “The public comes with that expectation,” said Klausen. “And it is still one of the more popular things. It’s a quirky thing. Going underground in a safe way gets people’s heart rate going.”

The museum has also addressed the issue of the impact that the mine has on the environment. The EPCOR Britannia Mine water treatment plant cleans up water after years of damage resulting from acid rock drainage. The mine museum is a prime example of the industry’s ability to meet the environmental challenges posed by mining and learn from it.

“There were some environmental legacies that needed to be cleaned up. But that has been done and now the property is being used as an educational tool, as a place of discovery for young people,” said McPhie. “I think it represents the full life cycle of a project and also that the industry has learned from the past and is very much progressing to a much lighter footprint on the land in terms of environmental protection and stewardship.”

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