A former copper mine located halfway between Vancouver and Squamish, the Britannia Mine Museum is a National Historic Site that’s well worth visiting.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE MUSEUM?
March is membership month. New and renewing members get a bonus month of membership plus other perks. The museum also has a number of extra activities happening for Spring Break between March 13th and April 1st.
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Britannia Mine Museum
The Britannia Mine Museum is a National Historic Site at what used to be the largest copper mine in the British Empire. At its peak the mine produced 7000 tons of ore per day and over 60,000 people lived and worked on site. It was a massive operation!
The Britannia Mine Museum Society has preserved the mine facility and today visitors can explore some of its original buildings, learn about its history and even go on a tour underground. Each year over 70,000 visitors experience the attraction.
It’s a popular attraction that scores about 4.5 out of 5 with TripAdvisor and Facebook (so it’s highly rated).
Mine Museum Location
Britannia Mine is located at #1 Forbes Way in Britannia Beach which is about 45 minutes north of Vancouver and 10 minutes south of Squamish along the Sea to Sky Highway.
Directions: Head north from Horseshoe Bay along the Sea to Sky Highway. The mine is on the right just 5 minutes past the Furry Creek Golf Resort (which has an exceptional course). If coming from Whistler, the mine will be on your left 10 minutes south of Squamish (and not far past the Stawamus Chief – the giant granite cliff of a mountain which you’re unlikely to miss).
The attraction is open 363 days of the year. The only days it’s closed most years are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Admission prices to Britannia Mine as of the end of 2020 were the following (plus GST):
- Adults (ages 18+) – $34.95
- Seniors (ages 65+) – $31.95
- Youth (ages 13 to 17) – $28.95
- Children (ages 5 to 12) – $19.95
- Little Folk (ages 4 & Under) – free
- Families (2 adults and 3 children/youth) – $125.00
Children ages 4 and under are free. Parking is also free.
Click Britannia Mine for the museum’s official website
Annual passes are also available. They are a really good deal if you plan to attend more than twice in a year including on special event dates like Family Day, the Copper & Fire Arts Festival in September and the Spoo-ook-tacular Halloween attraction in October. The annual pass for families is an especially good deal as it’s just $30 or so more than one day’s admission!
The following are the rates for annual passes (excluding GST) as of December of 2020:
- Adults (ages 18+) – $78.00
- Seniors (ages 65+) – $60.00
- Youth (ages 13 to 17) – $58.00
- Children (ages 5 to 12) – $38.00
- Little Folk (ages 4 & Under) – free
- Families (2 adults and 3 children/youth) – $160.00
In addition to 12 months of access to the museum, benefits of annual membership usually include thins like 15% discounts at 1) select events, 2) for accompanying guests on regular days, and 3) purchases in the gift shop and snack bar. If you visit the museum multiple times and the savings can be considerable!
Things to Do and See
The Britannia Mine Museum has a number of exhibits, buildings and things of interest to see and do. In addition to its “Company Store” gift shop and Chatterbox Cafe, there is the Mineral Gallery, a gold-panning pavilion, the Britannia A to Z Historical Exhibits, a kids’ play area, a film about mining, Mill No. 3, other historical buildings and a visitor centre with interactive displays.
At the attraction there is also a 45-minute underground tour where you get to wear a miner’s hard hat and ride the mining train into the side of the mountain. Since the summer of 2019, there is also the new multi-sensory BOOM! exhibit.
Expect to spend a couple of hours at the museum, between the underground tour and browsing the various exhibits.
Beaty Lundin Visitor Centre
Near the entrance to the Britannia Mine Museum is the visitor centre which provides an introduction to the site. There you will find touchscreen displays and interactive exhibits. Also near the start of your self-guided tour you’ll find the film Groundbreaking which is educational, light and highly recommended.
The Mineral Gallery
Britannia Mine was an active mine for many years. Copper was the main product, but other minerals extracted included zinc, lead, cadmium, silver and gold. In the Mineral Gallery visitors can see samples of the various metals and learn about what they are used for.
A favourite hands-on activity for many visitors is the gold panning. It takes place in a covered area and you can hang out there for as long as you want. Don’t expect to get rich finding real gold, but it’s fun to use the pans and spot the glittering bits in the sand. When we’ve taken kids to Britannia Mine, this has always been one of their favourite things to do.
What sparkling treasures will you find while gold panning? Mostly quartz and iron pyrite (a.k.a. fool’s gold). If you’re lucky you might even find a few tiny flakes of real gold (but don’t count on it or expect to get rich).
Britannia A to Z Historical Exhibits
The Britannia A to Z Historical Exhibits is a building where you’ll find museum-like displays describing the history of the museum. You’ll see photos, displays describing life at the mine and a small number of artifacts. If you enjoy history, you’ll find the exhibits very interesting.
One of the highlights of Britannia Mine for us is the tour through the underground mine. It’s pretty cool (in more ways than one)!
Tours run at set times. On weekdays they typically depart at 11:00, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:00. Tours on weekends and holidays are usually 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 12:30, 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 3:00, 3:30 and 4:00. Exact times vary, however, and can depend on attendance numbers and other factors. Check at the information desk for times on the date of your visit.
The underground tour of the mine begins with a hike up close to 50 steps. At the mine’s entrance you’ll meet your guide, receive a hard hat, get instructions and then climb aboard the mine railway (which is a lot like a miniature train). Kids will love it (unless, of course, they’re afraid of the dark)!
Once everyone is ready and on board, the railway locomotive and cars set off down into the tunnel of the mine. It’s dark inside, and the journey is fun. Part way down the shaft the train stops, people get out and you get to walk around a tiny bit in a semi-lit area.
In total the underground tour takes around 45 minutes including the introduction and handing out of hard hats at the beginning.
Tips about the Tours
Below are a couple of good things to know regarding the underground tours.
TIP #1: During tours they usually (but not always) fire up a machine or two and sound the end-of-shift whistle. These demonstrations are all very loud. You’ll be warned when to cover your ears. If needed, adults can also ask for ear plugs (which will free up their hands so they can help cover the ears of little folk in their group).
TIP #2: Tours of the underground mine depart at set times and are on a first-come, first served basis. Unless the museum is experiencing a really quiet day, you may need to line up for the tour as much as 30-minutes before the departure time. Also, unless you get there early, don’t wait until the last tour of the day (just in case it’s full). Unless you really don’t like dark places, or have mobility issues (as you have to climb steps to get there), the underground tour is something you won’t want to miss.
Mill No. 3
Over its 70 years of operations Britannia Mine had three main mills. Mill No. 1 operated from 1905 to 1914, Mill No. 2 from 1914 to 1921, and Mill No. 3 from 1923 to 1974. The massive 20-storey building you can see from the highway at the historic site today is Mill No. 3.
Mill No. 3 is an impressive landmark structure that you can go inside. From the inside it looks like something you might see in a science fiction movie. (Actually, a number of movies and TV shows have been filmed at Britannia Mine including the X-Files, Scooby-Doo 2, Travellers, Supernatural and the Flash. Some have been filmed in the mine tunnels themselves while others in Mill No. 3 and other buildings.)
Along with the underground tour, Mill No. 3 has always been one of our favourite elements at Britannia Mine. It’s an impressive-looking building. As of the summer of 2019, it’s going to be even more interesting!
The BOOM! Attraction
The newest attraction at Britannia Mine is BOOM! Debuting in the summer of 2019, it’s a show-style experience in the historic Mill No. 3 building. A film and special effects make the structure come alive with sounds and sights from days long ago.
BOOM! involves a show-style presentation featuring a couple of screens, more than 30 speakers and a variety of special effects. It explains the history behind the 20-storey Mill No. 3 and is a tremendous new addition to the already very interesting museum.
The new attraction is a show that’s both educational and entertaining. See our article about BOOM! for more information.
About the Historic Mine
You’ll learn a lot about the mining industry and history of Britannia Mine on your visit to the museum. You’ll learn that minerals were discovered at the site in 1888, so a decade or so before the Klondike gold rush.
The mine itself started up in 1904 and operations continued until 1974. Over those 70 years more than 50 million tons of ore were extracted including some 650,000 tons of copper, 137,000 tons of zinc, 188 tons of silver and over 15 tons of gold, among other valuable minerals.
As you’ll learn from the BOOM! presentation, 1.3 billion pounds of copper was produced at the mine over its history (and that’s equal in weight to 43,000 school buses)! Also, as you might learn during your underground guided tour of the mine, if made into a 1-inch-thick cable, that’s enough copper wire to go around the world eight times!
Other interesting trivia you’ll learn are the fact that the mine’s tunnels extended over 200 km and as deep as 650 m below sea level, and that close to 100 people died over the years while working underground at the mine.
At the museum you’ll also learn about life at the mine, the role of labour and the mine’s impact on the environment.
Special Events at the Museum
Britannia Mine is open all year. In addition to days with regular admission, the attraction offers a number of days featuring special events. These include the following:
- Easter Dino Egg Hunting – a day with kid-friendly Easter-themed activities on the Easter Long Weekend in March or April (with the month depending on when the holiday falls each year).
- Family Fun Day – a weekend with special family-friendly activities in May (not to be confused with the Family Day statutory holiday in February).
- Copper & Fire Arts Event – a one-day event in mid-September featuring artists and the creations they make using mined materials. Art you’ll see on the day includes metal sculptures, paintings and jewellery. In 2019 it took place on September 14th.
- Spoo-ook-tacular Halloween – family-friendly Halloween activities and decorations on the last weekend or two of October. 2019 dates were October 19th, 20th, 26th and 27th.
- Christmas Magic – Christmas activities and decorations on a couple of days in December. 2019 dates were the Saturdays of December 7th and 14th. On those dates there were special activities at the mine between 11 am and 2 pm. Santa Claus had a Secret Nook in the underground mine and there was a Teddy Bear Holiday Hunt (where kids had to find bears hidden amongst the trees). There were also crafts activities as well as photo opportunities with the big guy in red. Children ages 5 to 12 cost $15. Visitors ages 13 and older cost $20.
Tips and Advice
Below are some additional tips and suggestions to help you make the most out of your visit to the Britannia Mine Museum.
TIP #1: Be sure to do the guided underground tour of the mine and check out the new BOOM! experience (as of June 2019). For us, they are our two favourite parts of the attraction.
TIP #2: Take a sweater as it is cool both underground in the mine and in the Mill No. 3 building.
Tip #3: Most but not all areas of the museum are wheelchair accessible. Accessibility is an issue, for example, with the underground guided tour which requires going up four dozen steps to access.
TIP #4: About two-thirds or even more of the site is indoors. Most of the attractions are inside or under shelter, so it’s a good place to visit on rainy days. You do need to walk from one building or structure to another, however, so take an umbrella or other rain gear if it’s wet.
TIP #5: Consider visiting other places nearby while you’re in the area. Porteau Cove can be a nice place for a picnic, as are Alice Lake and Shannon Falls. Interested in a serious hike too? Then check out Stawamus Chief (but the back route, not the cliff at the front – unless you’re extremely serious!). For an easy hike and even more spectacular views, take a trip up the Sea to Sky Gondola. If you like trains, then check out the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
For more information about the museum see the Britannia Mine website.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver’s Best 24 Attractions
- Metro Vancouver’s Top 100 Places
- Best Places for History & Culture
- Vancouver Rainy Day Activities
- Vancouver for Children