Location of Bella Coola, British Columbia
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, Hagensborg, Saloompt, Nusatsum, Firvale and Stuie.
It is also
the location of the head offices of the Central Coast Regional District.
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
Ocean) 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
In recent years, the mountainous terrain around (and accessible
from) the Bella Coola Valley has become a publicized destination
, with a number of skiing
movies filmed in the area, and local companies advertising access
to "1.5 million acres" (6,100 km¬≤) 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
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
Park, which contains a great deal of wildlife, including
grizzlies and black bears and then through the mostly
desolate country of the Chilcotin Plateau.
Coola is also served by the Bella Coola Airport (on Highway 20, in Hagensborg), 16 km distant (10
miles) from the townsite which has a 1,280 m-long (4,200 ft)
Pacific Coastal Airlines offers
scheduled traffic to Vancouver and Anahim Lake.
Charter flights to other destinations can
BC Ferries provides a vehicle/passenger service
in the summer (June 5-September 3) through picturesque fjords and open sea to Port
Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
rest of the year (October 1-May 17), a smaller ferry service
can be used to "shuttle" to outlying coastal communities McLoughlin Bay, Shearwater, Klemtu and Ocean Falls, for available transfers at McLoughlin Bay to a
ferry serving either Prince Rupert or Port Hardy.
Schedule varies throughout
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
of the 1860s. In the 1870s the valley was surveyed as a potential Pacific terminus of the
Canadian Pacific Railway
Inlet was the eventual choice, its selection giving birth
to the city of Vancouver).
1890s, a group of Norwegian
Lutheran settlers were given land grants in the valley, after their
previously-existing community in Minnesota 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
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 Hagensborg 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
Tallheo, across the arm from Bella Coola, was founded by a
Norwegian settler who had given up on farming in the
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".
community of Ocean Falls 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
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
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
Bella Coola in popular culture
In the 2008 movie The
, 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.
Coola Valley includes Electoral Areas C, D and E of the Central Coast Regional
Coola Valley is split between two Electoral Districts in the
Columbia provincial government.
- 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
Coola Valley is split between two Electoral Districts in the
Canadian federal government.
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
- Official webpage of the Tweedsmuir Provincial
- Website describing the Bella Coola airport
- BC Ferries summer service to Port Hardy
- BC Ferries fares from Bella Coola for the winter
- BC Ferries schedule for winter involving Bella