A surprising number of animals use Britannia Mine Museum as a hunting ground or a place to rest. Every time I see one, I am reminded that long before there was a mine here, this land supported wildlife, and some animals still use our historic buildings today. To celebrate Wildlife Week (April 5-9 2022), I’m going to share some of my favourite animal encounters from my year at the museum.
I joined the team in the Fall of 2020. One morning I was shocked to find black-tailed deer wandering near the Underground exit. These deer are normally too shy to visit during busy opening hours, but that morning they didn’t seem to be bothered by the museum staff. I haven’t seen them since, but I find enough tracks on snowy days to know that they must visit fairly often.
An even sneakier visitor is the northern alligator lizard. The Museum’s historic buildings give them plenty of places to hide, so you have to be very lucky to spot one sunbathing on the old machines near the Conveyer Sheds.
Not all of Britannia’s animals are wary around people. As the weather gets warmer, the distinctive calls of red-winged blackbirds fill the air on quiet days and busy days alike. These birds always live near freshwater, and the reeds in our ponds give them lots of places to perch, hunt and build nests. In the late spring, they are joined by several kinds of colourful swallows. My favourites are the barn swallows, which have a distinctive blue back and orange chest. These birds are a species at risk because of habitat loss in their winter range. Here at Britannia, they seem to have no trouble finding homes in the many bird boxes that line our buildings.
The success of these small birds is a sign that our museum’s ponds are supporting lots of tasty insects, but some animals prefer larger prey. Great blue herons often lurk near the Company Store where they hunt for fish. I’ve been told that river otters have also come up from Howe Sound to use our pond like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Sadly, the waters near the mine have not always been so full of life. Our Terra Lab displays tell the story of how heavy metals from the mine contaminated nearby Britannia Creek in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Fortunately, the 2005 construction of the Epcor Britannia Mine Water Treatment Centre has allowed these waters to recover. Famously in 2011 Pacific salmon were observed spawning in the Creek. Last Fall, interpreter Angie took this footage of pink salmon swimming upstream to breed just a few minutes north of the Museum site.
Fish aren’t the only animals that use freshwater, and our seasonal Live in the Lab: Mini Mud Monsters program gave the interpreter team a chance to sample the pond for small creatures. My favourite discovery was an aquatic insect called the caddisfly because it has its own way of ‘mining.’ Young caddisflies collect small pebbles and stick them to their bodies to form a protective case. They are also very sensitive to pollution, so their presence in Britannia Creek (and the pond near the Company Store) says good things about the water quality today.
The next time you visit the museum, be sure to keep an eye out for furry, feathered or scaly visitors that are also enjoying the site. If you get a great photograph, be sure to tag us @BritanniaMineMuseum so we can share them!
Copper is a very special material. It was the first metal that people shaped into tools, has played a vital role in the development of civilisation, and its remarkable qualities make it important in both electronics and medicine: "When a virus or bacteria lands on copper," Diane writes, "the copper releases electrically charged particles which blast apart the cell membrane..." Now that is a metal we'd all do well to study.
During its years of operation, some 650,000 tons of copper were extracted from ore at the Britannia Mine.