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Historical Society seeking $2 million for museum

Redevelopment of mining museum is key part of larger Britannia Project



The Britannia Beach Historical Society has made a $2 million grant submission to the Canada/BC Infrastructure Program which, if successful, will revitalize the old mining museum at Britannia Beach.

The application is just part of a $3.4 million project, designed to transform the museum, from its rundown appearance and broken windows to a world-class tourism stop on the Sea to Sky Highway.

If the grant is awarded, the society plans to raise the remaining $1.4 million by targeting individual and industry through a fundraising campaign, explained Kirstin Clausen, B.C. Museum of Mining Director.

"Without question, one leverages the other," she said.

"Our success with the Canada/BC Infrastructure grant will leverage the interest in industry."

At Monday’s Squamish-Lillooet Regional District meeting, board members unanimously approved the society’s request for a letter of support to go along with the grant application.

"This was the first opportunity to really present something powerful to the whole board," said Clausen.

"And while we expected to get a letter of support, it was really, really gratifying to get it. Now we can confidently say the project has the support of the regional government."

The grant money will go towards exterior cladding, new windows and a roof, with a focus on structural and safety upgrades and site cleaning.

Built right into the hillside next to the highway, the mining museum is a familiar site to Sea to Sky travellers. The old mill, or concentrator as it’s also known, is perhaps the defining building in Britannia Beach. But there have been calls to give the building a face-lift.

"The concentrator’s time has come," said Clausen.

"It’s a building that has, because of the historical society’s limitations, been allowed to become derelict in a sense. I hate using that word because I love the building so much but its time has come. It’s an incredible building."

The renewal of the mining museum building is considered the first part in the overall Britannia Project, an initiative that is set to change the area forever in the next four years.

Designers were given a carte blanche, with no budget in mind for the development, to come up with ideas for the re-invention of Britannia Beach around its historical roots.

Their vision so far is dramatic, as is the cost of up to $100 million.

"The development itself will be shaped by the funding that’s available and by what can be achieved in the time that we have available," said Michael McPhie, project director.

"The Britannia Project as an undertaking will be in place by 2008 but exactly what it’ll be is not 100 per cent clear yet."

What is clear is that the museum will serve as a cornerstone in the overall project.

The grant application states:

"It is imperative that the Concentrator receive immediate attention to avoid compromising the implementation of the Britannia Project. The Concentrator… symbolizes the raison d’etre for the Britannia Project and is key to its overall success."

In the vision of the Britannia Project, the concentrator will tell the story of the mine with huge-scale archival images of the men and machines. A train ride will take visitors underground to give them the sense of what it was like to mine in the darkness and teach them about the work and skill of the miners.

An earth garden will begin at the top of the concentrator and descend the face of the mountain. There will be terraces and pathways, wetlands and water features, interpretive nodes and rock caverns. The earth garden will explain the techniques involved in cleaning up the contaminated water at Britannia Bay, a separate initiative that is to get underway in the coming year.

"The whole concept is to show that this water is now clean," said Yale Simpson, president of the Britannia Beach Historical Society.

There will also be an innovation and sustainability centre next to the mining museum, which will promote and explain what sustainability means in resource extraction.

McPhie said Britannia is a great place to tell that story not only because of the attention from the 2010 Games but also because the area is a site in transition.

"In some cases it’s kind of the transition from the old industrial economy to the new," he said.

These plans are just one part of the entire Britannia Project, which also includes a restored waterfront as well as a town with historic mining buildings such as the mill shop, the welding shop, the drying shed, core shed, the old bunkhouses and the honeymoon cottages.

Clausen said recent events such as the push to clean up the contaminated water at the site, as well as the development plans from Britannia Bay Properties, which will bring brand new single family homes to the area, have really helped their cause.

"That helps ground our vision – that there’s real interest in the area and that there are some key people that want to invest and find solutions," she said.

The $2 million grant proposal for the mining museum was submitted in mid-September.

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