Some of our earliest adventures involved driving up to the mountains for an afternoon of poking around old mining sites. For kids, there is nothing like 4-wheeling and then seeing old structures, finding giant pieces of mining equipment on the side of a mountain, and picking up all sorts of steel parts and gadgets. On one occasion, we came across an old miner’s tobacco pipe which was hand carved from a tree limb.
In addition to the claims dotted throughout Colorado’s mountains, we’ve also enjoyed formal tours of gold and silver mines as well as mill sites (the building where the rock was crushed and processed). While there is a cost involved for these tours, it’s always been fun to descend into dark tunnels with the notion that you are being safe and not breaking any rules. When underground you get the chance to see how the miners worked: the tools they had, the conditions they dealt with, and the potential profits they could make. The established mining museums often reveal historic photos from the mining industry that shed light on a miner’s way of life.
In the last several years, our attention has turned more to hiking and climbing. So, on last summer’s trip to Whistler, Canada, we were happily surprised to find the giant, and fully restored Britannia Mine. As we learned in the new visitor’s center, Britannia was the largest cooper producing mines in the British Commonwealth by the late 1920’s. Some 60,000 workers pulled out 650,000 tons of copper between 1904 and 1974. The tour into the mine was impressive as they demonstrated how the tools worked (the famous widow maker drill was our favorite) and what the average day was like for the miner. You really can’t imagine what dark is until you are down in the mine so learning about the advances in underground lighting tools was extremely meaningful. Also impressive were the number of buildings housing the core samples from years and years of exploration. Imagine giant straws of rock stacked next to each other and housed in sheds for assaying.
For younger children, the Britannia mine’s visitor center offered a gold panning area with water chutes allowing the kids to manipulate and play with. This was one of the most all-around comprehensive mine tours we’ve taken. The tour guides at Britannia eloquently presented memorable tidbits of history while maintaining a rustic attitude and operating machinery of the times. What’s more, the old Mill and mine shafts are used in numerous mystery movies and TV shows. We got to see a film crew preparing for a shoot while we were there. The Britannia museum has done a great job reviving mining history and the trip was a great revival of one of our old pastimes. To learn more about the Britannia mine and tours, visit their website at britanniaminemuseum.ca.