One of my first projects at the Britannia Mine Museum was to create an online exhibit about Mount Sheer, “the Townsite”. Since then, I’ve read a lot of stories, seen a lot of photos and tried to imagine living life in such an isolated and tight-knit community. I’m not the only one to imagine this. A question we hear all the time at the Museum is ‘what’s left at Mount Sheer?’ It has a certain mystique… an abandoned mining town high on the mountain and shrouded in the trees. The site lies within the mine boundary and therefore is not publicly accessible, which only adds to the mystery.
2014 marks Britannia Beach’s 110th anniversary and we are planning a Homecoming Weekend of socializing and activities for former residents, their families and other interested guests. One of the special activities offered to Homecoming Participants is a trip to the Mount Sheer Townsite which is only accessible if accompanied by the Mine Manager. In preparation for this trip, we went on a scouting mission and so I got to see the site for myself.
During its life, the Townsite was a fully functioning town, complete with high school, hospital, outdoor heated swimming pool, homes and mining operations. At 2,500 feet above sea level and nestled in the shadow of the mountains above it was a town that was very isolated, particularly in winter. It was abandoned in 1958 when the Mine was temporarily shut down. To prevent squatters it was pretty much demolished in the 1960s and today little remains. As you may imagine, much of the Townsite has been reclaimed by nature. Standing on the main road that is used to access the site today (but which did not exist when Mount Sheer was inhabited), it’s hard to visualize rows of houses in the midst of a live and bustling community. As I looked around, all I saw were trees – no evidence of the buildings and people of years gone by.
This is not to say that there’s nothing to see at the Townsite. The launders still stretch off into the distance with pieces of rusted tin resting on the grass and concrete. Although only two sides of the powerhouse remain, some of the equipment can still be seen and when you stand inside the frame of the building you still feel a sense of how large the building must have been. Perhaps the most recognizable and memorable places at the Townsite today are the pool and wading pool. Although overgrown with trees and plants, the concrete is solid and you can still see hues of blue paint. As for the rest of the Townsite, some old buildings are now piles of lumber, the core sheds are still (barely) standing and what we’ve been told is the foundation for the cookhouse is still visible. The old Tunnel Dam which was central to the community is now backfilled with debris.
The absolute quiet and the view from the Townsite is as spectacular as it was decades ago and it’s easy to understand why people would love to live at Mount Sheer. Even as a guest to the Townsite, I was struck by the history and the lives of the past – I can only imagine the kind of memories it would recall for former residents. We look forward to hearing the stories and reliving the memories when we take our special tour of the Townsite with Homecoming guests. If you’re interested in attending Homecoming Weekend or joining the Tour of Mount Sheer, visit the Homecoming webpage.