Virtual Museum of Canada
Click to view a flowchart of the mill process
Click to view panorama images of the Mill

The Minerals and their Markets

Britannia Beach was first and foremost a copper mine. The copper at Britannia was found within another mineral called chalcopyrite. The mill’s primary function was to extract the chalcopyrite from the remaining rock. In 70 years of operation, the mill produced 1.3 billion pounds (650,000 tons) of copper.

What is in a penny?

The Canadian PennyThe familiar copper penny is no longer copper! Up until 1997, the one-cent coin was 98% copper, 1.75% zinc and 0.25% other metals. From 1997 until 2000, the penny was copper-plated zinc. To save costs, today’s penny is 94% steel, 1.5% nickel and 4.5% copper.

Source, Royal Canadian Mint
The active shifting of the Earth caused the rich mineral deposits at Britannia. The west coast of Canada is part of a geographic region known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area where tectonic plates (earth plates) meet and shift. This created an ideal environment for mineral deposits to form over millions of years.

Copper is one of the oldest and most important metals known to humankind. It has been used for almost 9,000 years. Copper tools, including chisels and axes, have been found that are over 7,000 years old. Some of the earliest coins unearthed in China are made of copper. In 1492 Christopher Columbus’ ships were covered in copper sheets for protection against algae growth. Currently, it is the third most widely used metal, behind iron and aluminum. Computer chips contain copper, solar panels used to produce solar energy are 90% copper and mobile phones are 19% copper. Over 40% of all copper use is in construction -- the average home contains 278 pounds of the metal.

The mining industry depends on strong markets and good prices for its products. Britannia Mines closed down because it was no longer profitable. Metals are exchanged on commodity markets, which deal with raw and primary products, and prices are determined by supply and demand. In 1930, the cost of copper was approximately 6 cents per pound, and in 2005 it was around $1.80 a pound. Copper is priced in the mid-range of industrial minerals, which include lead, zinc and nickel, but it is a fraction of the cost of precious metals like gold (around $6,500 per pound). Check the London Metal Exchange at for current prices.

BCMM 11266. The building of The Townsite (Mt.Sheer). c. 1914 BCMM 13500. The foundations of the Mill. 1922. BCMM 13503. Playing baseball in front of the Mill foundations.1922. BCMM 13510. The Mill during winter. c. 1960 Arial view of the mill showing placement of lime tanks. c. 1960. BCMM 12431 The dock at Britannia Beach. 1948.