I have to admit that although I have been living here in Greater Vancouver for more than 10 years, I haven’t taken much time to explore the city. As a matter of fact, last year was my 1st visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge, 1st hike up on Grouse Mountain, 1st hike at Joffre’s Lake, and 1st visit to Britannia Mine. The truth is, we just don’t think about checking out the local attractions. When we plan for a vacation we usually head south to the United States or east to Alberta to see our family and friends.
Last spring break we planned a family vacation in Seattle, Washington. Our hotel was booked. Our days were planned. Our luggage were ready to go. The night before our departure, I gathered all the important documents, did a quick review of our passports, and to my dismay, discovered that my passport had expired! We had to cancel our trip. Needless to say, the kids were disappointed and I felt terrible!
But it turned out that it was a good thing because it forced us to play tourist in our hometown and it allowed us to check out some great attractions that the Vancouver area has to offer!
One of the attractions that we stopped at was the Britannia Mine. I can’t tell you how many times we passed this award winning museum driving back and forth on the sea to sky highway to Whistler. It is definitely worthwhile to check this museum out!
Britannia Mine was the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth. Not only did they mine copper but also other metals such as gold, silver, lead, zinc, and cadmium. The Britannia mine was a massive operation with an impressive 210 km of tunnels running deep into the mountain. In 1975, the once busy mine was reopened as British Columbia Museum of Mining, currently know as Britannia Mine, to preserve the history of mining in B.C. and to educate the process of mining. I have to say that the museum did a mighty fine job of doing both!
If you happen to visit this place, I suggest that you take the underground train tour first. The tour is very informative and when you walk through the museum grounds, you will have more of an appreciation once you know the history of the place. The tour guide will equip you with hard hats, and if you have a child under the age of 3, ear plugs as well. The ear plugs are needed to muffle out the noise of the mining equipment when they demonstrate their use in the tunnel. The tour will replicate the duties of the miners by demonstrating the actual equipment they used to drill through the tunnel and obtain the ore. You will also have the opportunity to experience the dimly lit, dingy environment where they spent their day mining for metal ore. I can’t even imagine being in a tunnel all day and not having the freedom to use the toilet when you need it.
The tour ends at the Mill 3, known as the “Concentrator”. The “Concentrator” is hard to miss as it is the big white building that we often see on the Sea to Sky Highway. It definitely dominates Britannia Mine and is very impressive with a steep 241 step staircase running up along the side of its’ interior. By 1912, the high grade ore had been mined and Mill 3 was built to “concentrate” the copper from low-grade ore through flotation techniques. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to climb the staircase due to safety concerns. It makes me curious as to what you will see up there.
After the tour, try your luck with gold panning. It turns out my son and I don’t have the skill or the patience to pan for gold, but my daughter and husband had a natural knack at it! Alan was able to master the technique and came out with a few gold flakes. I keep wondering if the gold is real or not…
Once we were done with gold panning, we walked through the grounds and checked out the exhibits the museum had to offer. You can read old letters written by miners to their love ones overseas, sit in the Copper Queen throne and examine different tools that miners have used. The exhibits really gives great insight on what life was like at Britannia when it was at the height of its copper production. Thorough my observation, Britannia wasn’t just a mine mill, it was also a close knit community.
So in case you are planning a visit to Britannia Mine, here are a few things to consider:
What should I wear to Britannia Mine?
Bring a sweater or a jacket as the underground tunnels can be chilly. Wear comfortable shoes for walking but also be aware that the tunnels may be wet, so there many be some puddles along the way. During the underground tour, you will be given a hard hat to wear for the duration. The tunnels are safe but BC Mine Act required hard hat to be worn. Ear plugs are also provided for the parents/guardians of children age 3 and under so their hands are free to cover the child’s ear during noisy demonstrations. Don’t worry! The noise does not last too long.
Is it kid friendly?
Yes! There are different levels of tables for gold panning so that little ones can join in on the activity as well. There is a playground for the parents to sit and enjoy some refreshment while the kids dig in the sand. My son’s favorite is the underground train tour. For younger children (3 and under), the noise and the dark may be a bit overwhelming. The tour may also be a bit long for the little ones to sit through but it can be done. On the day when we were there, a couple of young kids made it through the tour with no problems!
How do I get there?
Simply take Highway 1 to Horseshoe Bay and follow the signs right onto Highway 99 which is known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The scenery on this Highway is incredible! You’ll see majestic mountains on the right and the beauty of the Pacific Ocean on the left. Enjoy the journey! And think about how bless we are to see something so beautiful. You will know you reached Britannia Mine when you see Mill 3 the Concentrator and the Big Yellow Truck!
How much time should I expect to spend here?
The train tour is on a first come, first serve basis. You can check their tour times here. It is best to arrive early to get the desire tour time. The guided tour takes approximately 45 minutes but expect to spend about 2-3 hours as there are other activities as well. If the visit goes into lunch hour, I would definitely consider packing a lunch and having a picnic at the playground.
How much does it cost?
As of February 22nd, 2017:
Youth (age 13-18) $23
Child (age 5-12) $18.50
Preschool (age 4 and under) FREE
Family pass (2 Adults with 3 youths) $105
Prices do not include applicable taxes.
Season memberships are also available and the information can be found here.
So the next time you make your way to Whistler consider making a stop to Britannia Mine. I guarantee you will learn something new. It’s educational for both children and adults, and it’s fun! You might even find some “lil’ hidden treasures” while gold panning!
This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.