DOING SOME DIGGING The case for saving the Britannia mill

The issue of conserving the historic Britannia mill in British Columbia has generated a number of letters from read...
The issue of conserving the historic Britannia mill in British Columbia has generated a number of letters from readers. The response is overwhelmingly in favour of preserving this part of Canada's mining heritage. Here is some of what readers had to say.

"Unfortunately, the story doesn't tell the full story," wrote CIM past-president Peter Tarassoff of Beaconsfield, Quebec. "A mining museum has existed on the Britannia mill site for many years. Like others around Canada it has helped to educate the public about the importance of mining. Some years ago the Britannia mine and concentrator was recognized as a historic engineering landmark by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and there is a commemorative plaque on the site.

"Instead of lamenting the restoration of the Britannia mill as a waste of money we should be congratulating those mining people and others behind the project. As stated in the Britannia project website, 'The Britannia Project aims to celebrate the importance of natural resources to Canada's history and future and demonstrate how innovation, leadership and sustainability are providing the foundation for responsible mineral development around the world'. What a great idea!" he said.

Carmen Storey, PGeo, of Red Lake, Ont., put her thoughts thusly, "I am concerned about the environmental legacy of the mining industry and the poor public image it has created. Past practices always come back to haunt the grandchildren. I am however opposed to the wholesale destruction of mills and headframes in the name of 'cleanup of abandoned sites' I am heartened that so many corporations would invest in rehabilitation of a historic structure so it can continue to stand as a monument to our mining history and point towards a responsible mining future.

"Ultimately the only evidence we have of our past are the physical assets left behind whether they are priceless works of art, the architecture of our cities or the resource and industrial sites that provided the wealth to create art and architecture. Is the site an eyesore? To some people it is now and will continue to be even after restoration, to others it is a fascinating and valuable historic asset. More should be done to protect the physical remains of our mining past before the ravages of time and vandalism destroy them forever," she added.

Roger Thomas of Carp, Ontario, mentioned a point that had not occurred to us. "If this is the mill in which 20-30 movies have been made, then it may be a big economic benefit."

We can assure our readers that this is, indeed, the one. Over 50 feature films and dozens of TV series have been filmed at the Britannia Beach site. The most recent was "Are We There Yet?" released earlier this year.

"It really is a shame that you chose to trash a good and worthy project which is trying to preserve a piece of mining history and trying to change the image of our industry," wrote George Hope, Teck Cominco's manager of project development in Vancouver. "The project is not just about preserving the Britannia mill; its about preserving mining history; its about returning the Britannia site to something we can all be proud of; its about sustainability and its about showing the rest of the world that we care about our communities and our environment. Furthermore, the Britannia mill it not just another mill, it is the mill. It's a defining element in our business.

"Not all the money has been raised," he added. "I think you should personally sponsor a window in the concentrator. Send $250 to the BC Mining Museum and be part of the 'Windows on Howe Sound' project."

Readers can be part of the project by contacting project director Michael McPhie at or 604-681-4321 or museum director Kristin Clausen at or at 800-896-4004 ext. 224.

Obviously, the Britannia mill project is worthy and we praise the philanthropy behind its conservation.

There is another side to the Britannia story, as Margarete Kalin of Boojum Research in Toronto wrote. "Although the mining industry is fixing the broken window panes in the old Britannia mine building, it has also indemnified itself, with a payment of $30 million, from the environmental consequences of acid mine drainage emanating from the mine Most of that money will pay for a water treatment plant which will necessarily be operated in perpetuity and which in turn will be a source of toxic sludge requiring careful disposal The Britannia mine clearly illustrates our desperate need for a solution that prevents or interrupts the formation of acid mine drainage."

Maybe saving the construction of the past and treating the acid mine drainage of the future will have to go hand in hand in Howe Sound. Choosing one over the other would be a difficult decision.


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