The Mill, also known as Mill 3 or the Concentrator, is the building that most visitors are captivated by, and if you've ever been inside it, you'll know why.
The Mill is one of the last remaining gravity-fed concentrator mills in North America. In the early 20th century, mills like this were commonly used in the separation of valuable ore minerals from waste rock in hard rock mining. Today, modern techniques make the use of gravity unnecessary in this process.
The Mill opened in 1923, after the fire that destroyed Mill 2. Built over 18 months at a cost of $1 million, it was an architectural and engineering achievement. Using steel and concrete, this Mill was literally built by hand. At an equivalent of 26-storeys high, you can imagine the work involved in its construction. Processing up to 7,000 tons of ore per day, the Mill ran - often 24 hours a day - until the mine closed in 1974.
The concentrating process was crucial to the efficient running of the mine, and much pioneering work was done here, including the development of the Britannia Deep Cell System - which gave the Mill a recovery rate of over 90%, excellent for the day.
“Wow!” That's the word we hear every day from visitors stepping into the Mill building for the first time. Inside you'll see a cathedral-like space that soars above your head, criss-crossed with rusting pipes and ageing concrete, a set of stairs which are a force to be reckoned with, and a ground level that blends historic industrial structures with a natural moss-covered rock face. The building just begs to be photographed!
The Mill has been the location for a number of movies and TV series including Scooby Doo Two and The X-Files. We have also hosted several atmospheric concerts, most recently being Men of the Deeps in August 2008.
In 1988, the Federal Government, through Parks Canada, designated the Mill as a National Historic Site. In awarding this honour, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized that the Britannia Mines had made a substantial contribution to the Canadian economy in producing vast quantities of copper ore for almost seventy years. The Board also acknowledged that Mill 3 was a building of historic and architectural importance. In 1989, the Mill was also designated as a BC Provincial Landmark.
The building is also significant for the pioneering work done on froth flotation by the mill workers over the decades. Continuously trying to improve recovery rates and reduce milling costs, Britannia was at the forefront of experimentation, particularly over their use of bulk flotation.
After the mine closed in 1974, three decades of BC weather took its toll on the building and it became a blight on the landscape, with decaying metal sidings and broken windows. Thankfully in September 2005, a rehabilitation project was enabled through $5 million funding from the Federal Government, Provincial Government, industry (notably Teck Cominco, Gold Corp, Hallbauer Family Foundation and Hunter Dickinson Inc.) and private donations. The Windows on Howe Sound project campaign raised over $110,000 from individuals donating to the restoration of the Mill's windows.
This project to stabilize the concrete foundations, re-roof each level, re-glaze the windows and re-side the building took eighteen months. AMEC managed the project, employing specialist contractors as necessary to take care of the foundations, sidings and roofing, while the windows project was managed by the Museum. An amazing 650 of the original 951 window frames were restored, with the rest being made from materials similar to the original. There were 14,416 panes of glass hand-puttied into the frames. Add to this the 56,000 square feet of roofing materials, 1,750 sheets of plywood and 12 helicopter lifts to take the materials onto the building, and you'll be able to understand the scope of this rehabilitation project. The entire project came in on time and under budget. We gratefully acknowledge AMEC, who managed the project at cost.
To learn more about the Mill, visit our online virtual exhibit.
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