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Doing Some Digging – Around historic mills

Human thought, or at least MY thought, is a marvelously random process, based on chance as much as logic. And so it...


Human thought, or at least MY thought, is a marvelously random process, based on chance as much as logic. And so it was that I came upon two entirely different but related pieces of information on the same day last week.

First was an article by Margarete Kalin in the winter/spring 2005 issue of Canadian Reclamation (www.clra.ca). The article, about ecological engineering solutions to acid mine drainage, contained an eye-catching sentence in its introduction: "the former site of the South Bay Mine north of Dryden, Ontario, [is] very similar to all the other thousands of abandoned and idle mine sites scattered throughout the Canadian north."

One might think that the vague number "thousands" is used loosely, but Kalin probably knows whereof she speaks, since the Toronto firm she founded more than 20 years ago, Boojum Research Ltd., is dedicated to researching and developing solutions to clean up environmental messes that mines have left in their wake.

Around the same time, I read about a high-profile project being launched in British Columbia, to rehabilitate the Britannia mill building (www.britanniaproject.com). The massive mill building that housed the mine concentrator, is located on the mountainside overlooking Howe Sound and the community of Britannia Beach. Said the news release: "Since the mine closed more than 30 years ago, the building has sat empty and for the most part neglected; time and weather have taken their toll; many of its 18,792 window panes have broken and the building has deteriorated to the point of becoming an unfortunate eyesore to many."

Here’s the plan. "The building exterior will be rejuvenated to its former glory. Windows will be replaced, new cladding and paint will be applied and the surrounding site will be cleaned-up. Total cost of the building rehabilitation is estimated to be $3.5 million dollars."

Funding will be by the mining industry and the federal and provincial governments, including donations from some well-known firms and individuals. The Hallbauer Family Foundation (as in the late Bob Hallbauer) has committed $100,000, as has Robert Dickinson, co-chairman of Hunter Dickinson Inc. Teck Cominco Ltd. has pledged $750,000. AMEC is providing project engineering through an in-kind contribution.

My first reaction was, where is AMEC when I need some work done around the house? Then I thought about this massive building being refit with tens of thousands of windows, only to be smashed by future beachcombers. Why all the fuss over this one big building?

I bet the Britannia mill is an eyesore, and doesn’t make the mining industry look good to its neighbours. However, if individuals, companies and governments have millions of dollars to spend cleaning up mining-related messes, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to tear down the Britannia mill building (which is just going to slowly deteriorate again). The site could be allowed to return to nature or be made into a park, perhaps with a commemorative plaque. Any leftover money could be put toward cleaning up some of the "thousands of abandoned and idle mine sites scattered throughout the Canadian north."


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