Monday, March 18, 2013

Squishing & Squelching in Squamish – Day 3: Mining History

After breakfast I went for a walk down memory lane, well, OK, along the Waterfront Trail on the southwest side of Squamish. A few other people were strolling along under umbrellas or hoodies, most with cavorting canine companions.

The trail runs alongside an inlet that enters from Howe Sound and is a reminder that Squamish offers an array of ocean activities including kayaking, fishing and sailing. The trail also offers moody views into the past when a pulp mill and saw mill operated here and the town was booming. Dark, hulking pylons from a former pier ran forlornly from the tidal flat into the sea and made me think of how the town has transformed from a resource-based past into a modern outdoor-activity centre. Clouds and mist hung like shrouds over the Chief and the mountains across the bay.

Heading out of town, I had one last stop, the Britannia Mine Museum, a National Historic Site, which, like the Chief, beckoned to me every time I hastened past. I donned a miner’s hard hat, boarded a train and we chugged into a dank, dripping tunnel where bright blue stains on the rocks showed the copper minerals that were once mined here. We dismounted at a larger cavern and the guide explained how miners drilled and blasted the rock using noisy, heavy drills. We shivered as he explained how miners worked in the early years under appalling conditions by candlelight.

Then we went to an enormous building, which covered half the hillside and once was the largest mill in world. Inside we stood in a huge open area with pipes and conveyer belts running everywhere. While the guide explained the intricacies of crushing and chemically treating the ore to make concentrate, my mind wandered. I had heard that occasionally performances are held in this most unusual space and imagined the pounding reverberations of the recent Japanese drumming band filling this enormous space.

Wandering amongst the many historic buildings, I discovered the gold panning area and excitedly grabbed a pan and swished and swished. Alas, only fools’ gold appeared.

I left reluctantly, for the Britannia Mine is a totally under-appreciated attraction, which offers wonderful historical insights not only into mining but also into the development of coastal British Columbia.

Heading homeward, I realized that Squamish was far more than a drive-through town, but a top-notch destination in itself. I couldn’t wait to return under an azure sky and beaming sun.

If You Go
- Waterfront Trail:
- More info: & Adventure Centre (corner of #99 and Cleveland Ave, Squamish)

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