The History of Britannia

Britannia Beach lies within the territory of the Squamish Nation, a culture that for thousands of years was adapted to living along river banks. This partially explains the lack of evidence of permanent settlements along the east shores of the Howe Sound. The immediacy of steep slopes against the water made much of the east coast of Howe Sound unsuitable for large villages, particularly given the numerous ideal places to live in the rich river valley to the north.

The best evidence that there was a village of any sort where Britannia Beach now sits comes from A Sto’lo Coast Salish Historical Altas, which suggests that a small settlement, perhaps a stopping point along a trading route between the Squamish and Sto’lo nations, existed there.

The Britannia Mine operated from 1904 to 1974 and was once the largest copper mine in the British Empire. In its seventy-year life, the Britannia Mine had a fascinating history. With over 60,000 people living and working here, you can imagine that there are a few stories to tell! There was pioneering work on ore extraction technologies - peak production rates making it the then biggest copper mine in the British Empire, dictatorial and benevolent managers, fire, floods, a tragic rock slide and much more.

There's too much 'story' to tell it all here.

How Britannia Started

When most people drive by Britannia Beach today they have little sense of how massive the Britannia Mine was.  Learn more about the story of Britannia.

How Britannia Started

The Britannia Story

In its seventy-year life, the Britannia Mine had a fascinating history. With over 60,000 people living and working here, you can imagine that there are a few stories to tell!

Britannia Story

Archival Documents

The Museum’s archives are an essential source of information on Britannia’s past. In this section you will also find materials written by Museum staff on Britannia and topics related to Britannia.

Archival Documents and Stories

Britannia's Environmental Story

Working with the province, land owners and community, an intensive remediation campaign was launched in 2002. The end-result has been a successful turnaround. Life has returned to the waters surrounding the mine, including Howe Sound.

Britannia's Environmental Story

Quick Facts about Britannia

There is so much to learn about Britianna and the life of the Mine. Here are some answers to questions we get asked daily.

Ore was discovered in 1888. Learn more about the story here.

The Britannia Mine opened in 1904 with Mill 1: 1905 - 1914, then Mill 2 was built. and operated from1914 - 1921 until it burnt down and was replaced by Mill #3 in 1923 The Mill closed in 1974.

190 Britannia Mine opened

1912/1  Service Tunnel (for Mill #1) driven in

1915 Jane Camp avalanche and Britannia Syndicate formed, (incld. Britannia Land Co., Britannia Power Co., Howe Sound Power Co., etc.)

1916: Mill #2 completed

1921: Mill #2 burnt down and Flood along Britannia creek

1923: Mill #3 (the present day concentrator) was built 

1942: Service tunnel reopened to use as air raid shelter during WWII (then closed until 1973 for the Museum)

1946:  First Britannia worker’s strike

1952: Road built to Mount Sheet (from Britannia)

1956: Train service between Vancouver and Squamish began

 1958: Sea to Sky Highway built

 1974: Mine closed. Super
truck (on-site) built to be used in Highland Copper Valley, near Kamloops

1975:  BCMM opened to

1988:  Britannia
designated as a National Historic Site

1991:  Flood in Britannia

Company History

1902-1963:  Britannia
Mining and Smelting Company

1963-1974:  Anaconda
Mining Company

1978:  Copper Beach
Estates is given transfer of Crown Grants and freehold rights

2002:  Copper Beach
changes its name to Britannia Mines and Reclamation Corporation

2003: McDonald
Corporation takes over and transfers much of land to Province of BC

Jane Slide (1915, 56 deaths)

Britannia Beach flood (1921, 35 deaths)

Mill 2 fire (1921, 0 deaths)

Britannia Beach
(processing and shipping operations) and Mount Sheer (mining operations).

There were 9 mining camps;

Victoria, Empress, Beta,
Barbara, Jane, Incline, Daisy (Goldsmith), Seaview, Seymour

Howe Sound Company and
subsidiary Britannia Mining & Smelting Company (1904 - 1963), Anaconda
Copper Company (1963 - 1974)

Over 50 million tons was extracted during the life of the mine. 7000 tons of ore were processed each day making it the largest copper mine in the British Commonwealth in the late 1920's, early 1930's. Their extraction rate was 90-95%!

Metal sulphides: pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, galena; gold and

Copper (650,000 tons),
zinc (137,000 tons), lead (17,000 tons), cadmium (500 tons), silver (188 tons),
gold (15.6 tons/500,000 ounces)

240km tunnels (longest 8km), over 1750 metres of vertical distance to a
depth of around 650 metres below sea level

There were an estimated 98 underground fatalities in 70 years