In our communities today, most of us are used to a choice of places to shop. Even in small communities where there might only be one shop, there's always mail order, internet shopping or a trip to a larger town. Not so for the residents of the Britannia Mine in its early years - expand your shopping horizons and you could end up fired.
Living in an isolated community, one building central to everyone's lives is the local store. In the company towns of the past, the store was run by the company itself. At Britannia Mine, there were only two stores - one down at 'the Beach' and a smaller one up at the Mount Sheer Townsite.
In the earlier years, under the direction of General Manager J. W. D. Moodie, there were strict rules. Although the company store was the only place in town to buy supplies from, he did not want anyone buying anything from mail order catalogues or from trips to Vancouver. If you were caught doing this, you got his infamous - and very serious - "pack up and leave town" order. This monopoly led to items being high priced. The bill would be deducted from payroll. Some wives, who's husbands were fond of payday poker, would make sure the store bill was well and truly racked up so that come payday there was not much, if anything, left. This left many workers to feel that they could not afford to leave town as they owed the store more than they earned.
As you would expect, the stores stocked essential supplies such as food, candles, clothing, linen. But being a fully functioning town with families and professionals to cater to, it also stocked luxury items. The stores were a hub of activity as this was also where you collected your mail and did your banking. The soda fountain was a popular hang out spot too. It was no wonder that the Beach store was by far the largest non-industrial building on site. In fact, only the Mill building was larger.
Under the direction of a later General Manager, the benevolent C. P. Browning, the stores became successful cooperative stores, where members were paid annual dividends.
Sadly the Beach store burnt to the ground in 1958. As the newly built highway gave access to locals to travel to Squamish and Vancouver far easier, there was no need for such a grand store any more. A smaller store was therefore set up in another building.
Today, all that remains of the store are some of the foundations that lie beneath the Museum parking lot. One corner can be seen next to our own Company Store - the Museum's gift shop that was named in honour of this Britannia icon.
The inside of the Mount Sheer store, circa 1950. BMM #11551
Check out the photo gallery below for more information about the Company Store.