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Location of Bella Coola, British Columbia
Bella Coola is a community of approximately 600 at the western extremity of the Bella Coola Valley. Bella Coola usually refers to the entire valley, encompassing the settlements of Bella Coola proper ("the townsite"), Lower Bella Coola, Hagensborgmarker, Saloompt, Nusatsum, Firvale and Stuie. It is also the location of the head offices of the Central Coast Regional Districtmarker.

The entire Bella Coola Valley contains a population of 1900 as of the 2006 Canadian census. This was a drop of 17% from the 2001 census, when the population was 2289.


The primary geographical structure of the community, both in terms of physical structures and population distribution is the long, narrow Bella Coola River valley. Highway 20 (known over most of its length as the Chilcotin Highway) stretches from the Government wharf (on the Pacific Oceanmarker) through the extent of the populated portion of the valley before climbing to the Chilcotin Plateau, and the entire population of the community lives either on this road or very near to it.

In recent years, the mountainous terrain around (and accessible from) the Bella Coola Valley has become a publicized destination for Heliskiing, with a number of skiing movies filmed in the area, and local companies advertising access to "1.5 million acres" (6,100 km²) of terrain.


On July 30, 2009, Bella Coola recorded its hottest-ever day on record, reaching a high of 41.5 degrees celsius.


The docks at Bella Coola


There is a 479 km mostly paved road connection by Highway 20 to Williams Lakemarker. The road features an 18% grade and narrow, winding switchbacks on the climb out of Bella Coola through the coastal mountains. Once out of Bella Coola, it runs through the mountainous Tweedsmuir South Provincial Parkmarker, which contains a great deal of wildlife, including grizzlies and black bears and then through the mostly desolate country of the Chilcotin Plateau.


Bella Coola is also served by the Bella Coola Airportmarker (on Highway 20, in Hagensborg), 16 km distant (10 miles) from the townsite which has a 1,280 m-long (4,200 ft) asphalt runway. Pacific Coastal Airlines offers scheduled traffic to Vancouvermarker and Anahim Lakemarker. Charter flights to other destinations can be arranged.

Marine ferry

BC Ferries provides a vehicle/passenger service in the summer (June 5-September 3) through picturesque fjords and open sea to Port Hardymarker on the northern tip of Vancouver Islandmarker.

During the rest of the year (October 1-May 17), a smaller ferry service can be used to "shuttle" to outlying coastal communities McLoughlin Bay, Shearwater, Klemtumarker and Ocean Fallsmarker, for available transfers at McLoughlin Bay to a ferry serving either Prince Rupertmarker or Port Hardy. Schedule varies throughout the season.


The Nuxalk people were present in the Bella Coola valley prior to any formal written history of the area. This is confirmed both by oral history that continues unbroken to present day, and by written history of some of the first European explorers of the area.

In 1793, Alexander MacKenzie arrived from the East, completing the first recorded crossing of the continent north of Mexico.

Immigration (non-Nuxalk) to the region was sporadic and often temporary for the next century. A Hudson's Bay fur trading post was set up at the mouth of the river (the land granted to the post forms the off-Reserve portion of the present-day "townsite"), and a handful of farmers were granted land further up the valley. The trading trails of the Nuxalk and neighbouring nations became a popular route from the Pacific Ocean to central British Columbia, particularly during the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s. In the 1870s the valley was surveyed as a potential Pacific terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway (Burrard Inletmarker was the eventual choice, its selection giving birth to the city of Vancouvermarker).

In the 1890s, a group of Norwegian Lutheran settlers were given land grants in the valley, after their previously-existing community in Minnesotamarker suffered an internal conflict. The land they were granted, as well as other land previously granted to individuals was, in many cases, land that had been occupied by Nuxalk communities only a few decades (or less) earlier. However, a smallpox epidemic had decimated the Nuxalk population, and the survivors had, for the most part, gathered on land close to the mouth of the river (and close to the Hudson's Bay post). The Norwegian settlement was named Hagensborgmarker and remains one of the main communities of the Bella Coola Valley, and although much of the Norwegian colony's population did migrate away, others stayed to work in forestry and in the development of the fishing industry. The cannery at Tallheomarker, across the arm from Bella Coola, was founded by a Norwegian settler who had given up on farming in the area.

These two populations (Norwegian settlers and Nuxalk), in varying proportions, continued to make up the vast majority of the community's population for most of the next century. However, in recent years, the Norwegian population (or connection to a Norwegian identity) has declined. In 2001, 43% of the population reported "Aboriginal identity", of which the vast majority is Nuxalk, while only 10% reported Norwegian (or Norwegian-Canadian) to be their "Ethnic Origin".

When the community of Ocean Fallsmarker suffered a massive population decline in 1980/81, due to the closure of the town's primary industry (a paper mill), Bella Coola became the administrative centre for British Columbia's central coast. This led to the relocation of the Central Coast Regional District (which, up until that time had been called the "Ocean Falls Regional District") offices to Bella Coola, and a general centralization of government services such as provincial government regional centres (e.g. Ministry of Forests) in Bella Coola.


Bella Coola has a more diversified economy than might be expected among a population of its size. Fishing, forestry, public service (government/education), retail and tourism all contribute significantly to the economy. There is some limited agriculture, including an active farmers' market, a number of craftmakers and artists (including several celebrated Nuxalk artisans) and a fish hatchery. The only financial institution in Bella Coola is a branch of the Williams Lake & District Credit Union, heir to a sixty-plus-year tradition of the Bella Coola Valley Credit Union.

Bella Coola in popular culture

In the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, the main character, Bruce Banner / Hulk concludes the plot by escaping to Bella Coola, where he attempts to control his transformations. Significant footage for the film was shot in and near Bella Coola, though only very limited amounts were retained in the finished product.

Elected representatives

The Bella Coola Valley includes Electoral Areas C, D and E of the Central Coast Regional Districtmarker (CCRD)
  • Electoral Area C: Brian Lande (chair of the Board of Directors of the Regional District)
  • Electoral Area D: Kevin O'Neill
  • Electoral Area E: Barney Kern

The Bella Coola Valley is split between two Electoral Districts in the British Columbiamarker provincial government.

  • North Coast (which includes 99.6% of the Valley's population): New Democrat Gary Coons
  • Cariboo South (includes only Stuie, at the east end of the Valley): New Democrat Charlie Wyse

The Bella Coola Valley is split between two Electoral Districts in the Canadianmarker federal government.


  1. Official webpage of the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
  2. Website describing the Bella Coola airport
  3. BC Ferries summer service to Port Hardy
  4. BC Ferries fares from Bella Coola for the winter service
  5. BC Ferries schedule for winter involving Bella Coola

External links

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