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Back to the future

Britannia Beach trades the past for the present



The Sea to Sky highway is a hypnotic ribbon of oceanic terrain marked by big mountains and tiny towns. Most of us have driven it countless times, but imagine topping the curve of the hill leading down to Britannia Beach and finding a bustling heritage town centre nestled into the crook of Howe Sound. It's entirely possible. Framed by a less-than-gentle slope of dark green coniferous growth, the brightly painted heritage buildings that dominate the small village will be morphing from ghost town to thriving commercial area, if Macdonald Development Corporation and the town's residents get their way.

It is not entirely inaccurate to say the city of 300 is stuck in time. These days, however, its history and architecture can hardly be considered negative factors. In an era defined by the rapid development of highway strip malls it is Britannia's close ties to its colourful mining past that have kept it from being phased out of existence by its commercially dominant neighbour, Squamish. From one vantage point it could be argued that the last decade has given Britannia Beach a fresh start. The success of extensive environmental remediation on the mine site is paying dividends through the rapidly growing health of local marine and ecosystems, and burgeoning commercial and real estate development is serving to enhance, rather than mar its colloquial vibe. It may be hard to imagine Britannia Beach ever being anything other than sleepy - from the tip of the fishing pier to the porch of the general store things move slowly, but the future is beckoning. After decades of inertia, pollution, and joblessness, Britannia Beach is being brought back to life.


The Plan

It's fitting that a town whose past was intrinsically shaped by the mining companies that owned it would eventually be purchased by yet another company. But for the first time since 1888, when intrepid explorer and amateur prospector Dr. A.A. Forbes found copper in the mountains around Britannia, it is not a corporation intent on exploiting the area's mineral resources. Despite the colossal and intimidating environmental remediation a decade ago that would have to precede any development, Britannia's pleasant geography and untapped commercial and real estate potential drew Vancouver-based Macdonald Development Corporation (MDC), a family-owned firm with a focus on condominium projects and single-family subdivision communities around North America.

"The biggest problem with Britannia where we are, was in the flatlands and the whole area - nobody wanted to take over the whole area because once you inherited it you inherited all of the liability from all the previous owners," said Bill Baker, MDC project coordinator for the Britannia Beach project.

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