B.C.’s controversial former Britannia mine now serves as museum – by Scott Simpson, Postmedia News (Canada.com – May 13, 2012)


VANCOUVER — Marshall Tichauer was still in his teens when his father decided it was time for him to make his own way in the world. “I turned 18. My father said, ‘Get a job’ and kicked me out,” Tichauer recalled.

Jobs weren’t difficult to find in the early 1960s. Tichauer lived in West Vancouver. He landed a job just up the highway at Britannia mine, which was still very much the Howe Sound company town it had been in its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s as the largest copper mine in the then-British Empire.

Like many of British Columbia’s major early industrial mines, Britannia got its start after a series of gold rushes that began in the Fraser River system in 1858 before spreading east and north to Rossland and Barkerville.

Those early prospecting opportunities threw open the door to waves of European and Asian adventurers across the British Columbia mainland — mining, not fish, furs or timber, was the catalyst for the settlement of the province.

Cumberland, on Vancouver Island, was one of B.C.’s earliest mining towns, with a coal mine from the late 1880s until 1966.

But it was gold that pulled prospectors to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, to wild and woolly Barkerville in the Cariboo, to Granby, Kimberley, Rossland and Trail — and to the serious business of building industrial-scale mines and smelters.

Gold prospectors were the first on the scene at Britannia, but it was an abundance of copper that led — by 1905 — to the development of a mine and a company town accessible only by ship.

There were good times and rough times.

An avalanche in March 1915 killed 60 men, women and children, and a landslide in 1921 claimed 37 lives.

The mine closed for a few years, but by 1963 — with copper prices improving on world markets — new owner Anaconda Mining was taking it on a final run that would last until 1974.

“I lived in the bunkhouse here. It cost me $20 a month. There was two men to a room and you were still responsible for your own food,” Tichauer recalled.

“I started out as a sampler underground. I used to have to take a sample of the rock and bring it out to the assay lab. Then I was a geologist’s helper, then an engineer’s helper — went up through the ranks.

“I was the mine rescue captain here for a while. I was a mine clerk and worked in the warehouse. I was a safety officer and employment officer when I left — and I was only 27 at the time.”

In the course of nine years at Britannia, Tichauer also met and married his wife, Marianne. They had two children and eventually moved to Squamish, B.C.

When they lived in a company house in Britannia, Tichauer made $1,200 a month and paid monthly rent of $120.

“And electricity was free,” he said.

“There were advantages to living here. There was community spirit. When we had a dance, everybody went. The company was good for the community. They sponsored a lot of adult-education programs. They would bring in the instructors and all that stuff. If you passed, they paid the whole shot.

“We had floor-hockey teams, baseball, and then of course people would go skiing. There was fishing out front. There were hikers’ cabins at the top.”

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