Britannia Beach is a small
unincorporated community in the
District located approximately 30 kilometers north of
Columbia on the
Sea-to-Sky Highway on Howe Sound.
Location of Britannia Beach, British Columbia
It has a population of about 300.
The community first developed between 1900 and 1904 as the
residential area for the staff of the Britannia Mining and Smelting
Company. The residential areas and the mining operation were
physicaly interelated, resulting in coincidental mining and
community disasters through its history.
Today, the town is host to the British Columbia Museum of Mining,
on the grounds of the old Britannia Mines. The mine's old
concentrator facilities, used to separate copper
ore from its containing rock, is a National Historic Site of
Beach took its name from the nearby Britannia Range of mountains, which form the east wall of the
mountainous shore of Howe
Sound south of Britannia Beach.
Royal Navy hydrographer Captain Richards
of HMS Plumper
named the range of
mountains for HMS
, the third of a
series of vessels to bear that name
. The Britannia
never in these waters.
A copper discovery on Britannia Mountain by Dr. A. A. Forbes in
1888 led to the development of the Britannia Mine. In 1899, a
mining engineer named George Robinson was able to convince
financial backers that the property had great potential. For
several years, companies were formed, merged and dissolved in
efforts to raise capital. The Britannia Mining and Smelting
Company, a branch of the Howe Sound Company, finally commenced
mining in the early 1900s, and owned the site for the next sixty
first ore was shipped to the Crofton Smelter on Vancouver
Island in 1904, and the mine achieved full production in
A town had grown up around the mine and a Post Office opened on
January 1, 1907 where it was named after the nearby mine.
In 1912, John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie was authorized to upgrade
the operation and increase production from the mine. Improvements
in the mineral separation processes stimulated plans for a new mill
(No. 2), which was completed in 1916 and was capable of producing
2000 tons of ore per day. The onset of World
increased the demand for copper and the price rose
On March 21, 1915, an avalanche destroyed the Jane Camp. Sixty men,
women and children were killed and it was a terrible blow to the
tiny community. Construction began immediately on a new, safer town
at the level above the Britannia Beach site. This portion of the
community became known as the "Town site" or "Mount Sheer".
In March 1921, during a brief period when the mine was shut down,
mill No. 2 burnt to the ground.
On October 28, 1921, after a full day of torrential rain, a massive
flood destroyed much of that portion of the community and mine
operations that existed on the lower beach area. 50 of 110 homes
were destroyed and thirty-seven men, women and children lost their
lives. The flood was caused because the mining company had dammed
up a portion of the Creek during the construction of a railway, and
when this dam gave way the town below was flooded. Carleton Perkins
Browning directed the reconstruction of this portion of the
community and the new No. 3 mill, which stands today.
Being an isolated, close knit community which could only be
accessed by boat, life in both of Britannia's towns was never dull.
Facilities included libraries, clubrooms, billiard rooms, swimming
pools, tennis courts and even bowling. A thriving social calendar
saw sporting events, theatrical productions, dances, movies and
parties held throughout the year.
The mine boomed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, becoming the
largest producer of copper in the British Commonwealth by 1929,
under the management of the mine manager C.P. Browning.
In the 1940s, there were talks to build an artist village in
Britannia's hills, but that plan did not proceed.
During the Great Depression
unionized in 1946 and suffered through their first strike. Low
copper prices saw the Britannia Mine Company reduced to seven
employees, and in 1959 it went into liquidation.
In 1963 the Anaconda Mining
bought the property and production continued for the
next eleven years. 300 employees managed to produce 60,000 tons of
concentrate each year. Ferries services stopped around May 1965
after the highway and railway connections had been constructed. The
connections made it easier to transport the copper, but high
operating costs and taxes eventually forced the mine to close on
November 1, 1974. The company did not attempt to clean up the mine
and chemical wastes that it produced, since the British Columbian
and federal laws did not require them to do so at the time and the
problems only became apparent some time after the mine closure. The
economy of the town diminished rapidly, and the railway station
shut down soon after.
A Vancouver-based accounting firm bought the entire town, making
Britannia still a "company town
living conditions were less than ideal and the accounting firm did
not attempt to clean up the polluted land either. All residents
were tenants of the company.
In 1991, another flood occurred when a dam broke, although there
were no casualties this time. Britannia creek burst leaks after 50
millimeters (two inches) of rain fell in less than 24 hours. The
torrent of flood water carved itself a new route, along what used
to be the old creek bed, straight through town.
In 1975 the BC Museum of Mining was opened to the public, and was
designated as a National Historic
in 1988. The following year, 1989, the Museum site was
designated a British Columbia Historic Landmark. The Britannia site
and its historic buildings, may be familiar to fans of the X-Files
series as several episodes were filmed on the site.
The 250 Britannia residents in 2000 are mostly not the descendants
of the miners of old, most of whom have long ago moved away. Many
present-day Britannia residents moved here from about 1980
In summer 2003, the town was purchased by The Macdonald Development
Corporation who is working in conjunction with the Provincial
Government to develop the town and surrounding area. The current
residents were able to purchase the property where their homes were
and many did so in November 2005, the first individual land owners
in the town's history.
A 30 million dollar water treatment centre has been built to
process the water pollution from the former mine. This opened in
April 2006. Improvements to Highway 99
and plans to develop the waterfront continue in preparation for the
2010 Winter Olympics
The large white concentrator building that dominates the town
received a 5 million dollar face lift with new exterior cladding
and windows. This was largely a community and private industry
Britannia Creek pollution
Water in Britannia Creek is extremely clear and transparent
suggesting a pristine environment, yet the clear water is actually
an indication that no living creatures can survive in it. The water
cannot be consumed by humans either.
Even though mining has stopped, runoff and rainwater that flow
through the mine’s abandoned tunnels combine with oxygen and the
content of the waste rock to
create a condition called acid rock
(ARD). ARD is caused by a chemical reaction, which
results in highly acidic runoff that contains large concentrations
of dissolved metals such as copper
, and zinc
. The polluted water was being deposited
directly into Howe
Sound by means of Jane Creek and Britannia Creek and as
much as 450 kilograms of copper was entering Howe Sound daily.
A two-kilometre strip of coastal waters along Britannia Beach was
seriously polluted, affecting 4.5 million juvenile chum salmon
from the Squamish Estuary (half the entire
salmon run). A Fisheries and
report revealed that Chinook Salmon
held in cages off Britannia
Creek died in less than 48 hours because of the toxic metals in the
water, whereas fish held off Porteau Cove had a 100 per cent
The area around Britannia Beach had become extremely polluted and
had a reputation as one of the most notoriously contaminated,
historic mining operations in North
from the The University of British
Columbia designed the Millennium Plug, a huge
device designed to prevent more pollutant from going into Britannia
However, polluted waters are now diverted to
discharge through a pipeline just 50 m offshore into Howe Sound.
Therefore, field monitoring done in 2003, using intertidal algae
and mussels as ecological indicators, showed that the recovery of
coastal biological communities was actually minimal . University of
British Columbia scientists are developing a state-of-the-art
heating system using the warm polluted metallic water seeping from