Human Threats to the Environment in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor
Human Threats Home Page
Cheakamus River Toxic Spill
Squamish Oil Spill
Geographical Threats
Britannia Mine Effluent
Threatened Wildlife

Water in Britannia Creek is extremely clear and transparent suggesting a pristine environment, yet the clear water is actually an indication that no living creatures can survive in it. The water cannot be consumed by humans either.

Even though mining has stopped, runoff and rainwater that flow through the mine’s abandoned tunnels combine with oxygen and the high sulphide content of the waste rock to create a condition called acid rock drainage (ARD). ARD is caused by a chemical reaction, which results in highly acidic runoff that contains large concentrations of dissolved metals such as copper, cadmium, iron, and zinc. The polluted water was being deposited directly into Howe Sound by means of Jane Creek and Britannia Creek and as much as 450 kilograms of copper was entering Howe Sound daily.

A two-kilometre strip of coastal waters along Britannia Beach was seriously polluted, affecting 4.5 million juvenile chum salmon from the Squamish Estuary (half the entire salmon run). A Fisheries and Oceans Canada report revealed that Chinook Salmon held in cages off Britannia Creek died in less than 48 hours because of the toxic metals in the water, whereas fish held off Porteau Cove had a 100 per cent survival rate.

The area around Britannia Beach had become extremely polluted and had a reputation as one of the most notoriously contaminated, historic mining operations in North America.

Scientists from the The University of British Columbia designed the Millennium Plug, a huge device designed to prevent more pollutant from going into Howe Sound. As of 2004, the Plug's performance has been deemed satisfactory. In addition, The University of British Columbia scientists are developing a state-of-the-art heating system using the warm polluted metallic water seeping from the mines.



The orebody within Britannia Mountain was mined from 1905 to 1974. It was a natural concentration of over 50 million tonnes of iron sulphide-rich rock containing 1% copper, 0.6% zinc, and other metals such as silver, gold, and cadmium. At its peak, the Britannia mine employed over 2000 people and produced metal that today would be worth $1.3 billion.


The mine contributed to the growth and status of B.C. as an international centre for exploration and mining. Metals from the old Britannia Mine contaminate nearby Britannia Creek and Howe Sound. Rainwater and snowmelt enter the mine through a pit at the top of Britannia Mountain. The waters react with sulphide minerals, leaching metals which are carried in solution from the tunnels to Britannia Creek and Howe Sound where they spread out as a sheet on denser seawater.


The Provincial Government contracted Golder Associates Ltd. as Project Manager to oversee the remedial actions for the mine site. The final stage of the water treatment plant was completed in 2006 by EPCOR.

Click Here to see a mining video.      
Back to Top of Page      



Created by Robert Price, Base map sourced from Data Warehouse, DMTI Dataset, Can Map Street Files, CanMap_StreetFiles_v2005, BC, BCTop


Britannia Mine Retrieved December 3, 2006 from:

Britannia Mine Crosssection Retrieved December 3, 2006 from:

Howe Sound Reteived December 30, 2006 from:


Top text box retrieved December 3, 2006 from:,_British_Columbia

Bottom text box retrieved December 3, 2006 from:

Back to Top of Page