IslandBound Traveller            Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
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By gary grieco
    In 1896, gold and copper propelled a serene evergreen island nestled in the Strait of Georgia, into an unparalleled era of prosperity and greed. The discovery of precious metal excites a fever and optimism in all men, and the1880's in Van Anda, BC was no exception, ushering in an unprecedented era of prosperity, with gold and copper being discovered in mines like the 'Little Billy'.

    Texada Island Heritage Museum's newly completed exhibit represents a part of that era with the re-creation​ of the "Little Billy Mine". It allowed visitors at the July 1st, 2017 opening to experience an underground mine brought to life; to imagine the sensation and shiver of the damp, cold, hardships, and claustrophobic gloom of a rough hewn underground gold mine from 300 years ago.


    Designer/builder, Lorrie Pirart, a museum volunteer, supported by the Directors and other volunteers made the exhibit happen. Pirart was introduced to the Texada Heritage Museum in 2013 when he brought the museum a small building facade that he had built for temporary use for another Texada organization. Curator Doug Paton was so impressed by Lorrie's work that he invited him to join the museum and work on what was to become the 'Clarence Wood Room', to be built in honor of the museum's first display designer. 
    An empty room in the museum evolved into an old mining town exhibit dedicated in 2014. Part of this display included a mine portal or adit, a wooden door to the mine, a chute with rocks, and a mine car on rails. It was built after Pirart toured the original Little Billy Mine for the first time with owner Stan Beale. It was at this point that Pirart began thinking about, and talking to the museum Directors about going through the adjoining wall into the next exhibit room and building a replica of an old drift mine. 
                     photo by gary grieco.
                     photo by lorrie pirart
               photos by gary grieco
  There was initial resistance to displacing 'Kempes" beloved and historic Van Anda store exhibit in the adjoining room, but Lorrie's enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. Soon, with the Boards approval the idea now began to translate into reality--with the initial problem looming for Pirart; "I could see it, but I had a hard time explaining what I saw, and how long it would take to build. It became a work in progress, changing as new ideas came along." 
    "One of the key problems was finding aged lumber", said Pirart. "I love the rough look of westerns--and the mine had to look authentic." He and Doug Paton collected wood from many sources on the island.
    There were technical details that had to be ironed out; for instance, how to build a framework that would hold material that would emulate a mine's rough rock face. Texada's, Richard Fahlman, a retired designer/builder of movie sets was consulted. He designed and made a sample of curved wood that when finished would create the illusion of a mine's overhead tunnel. This labor of love entailed Pirart cutting and joining 400 pieces to form the finished base that was covered in a fine mesh to hold mortar. 
    The finishing process was one of elimination. Pirart even made a trip to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria and spent time with their display builders building in fiberglass; a far to expensive procedure for a small museum on a shoe-string budget.
    After much experimentation, using concrete as a mortar including polymer and carpenters glue was decided upon. A spackle, texture gun, small enough to handle and get into corners was chosen to apply the mortar. It was backbreaking work for Paton and Pirart. "We used a total of thirty, five pound bags and worked four hours at a time using two to three bags, with five mixes per bag. The hopper on the gun weighed ten pounds when loaded, and I would start spraying the ceiling with the hopper on my shoulder," explained Lorrie.
    I asked Pirart, why? He replied, "What kept me going were people coming into the museum to see the unfinished display, and would say things like, Omigod, is that ever cool!" 
    Access for visitors to the new Little Billy exhibit is through the Clarence Wood Room, a replica town complete with a blacksmith shop, glowing forge, and assay office stacked with ore samples and displays of old photos. All of this memorabilia conjures up images of yester-year in Texada City and Van Anda. Guests enter and walk by the boardwalk and storefront windows where indirect lighting causes flickering shadows to come alive with ghosts from the past, creating the illusion of stepping back in time one hundred years.
    Curator Doug Paton' s goal is to let the rest of BC know that, "the Klondike got the glory, while Texada had its own gold rush that few know about."