The Bella Coola Valley is the Perfect Place to spend your Great Bear Rainforest Expedition. Bella Coola is located in the Heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, on the Central Coast of BC Canada.
This summer, relax with a fishing line in hand, explore a hiking trail, drift a river, hire a guide to watch wildlife, tour petroglyphs & totems, an ocean cruise, air-touring, heli-hiking & swim among salmon.
This valley has a temperate climate that encompasses the Coast Mountains, glacial rivers & inland regions. Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is just one of the incredible places to stay, check out the Great Bear Rainforest photos here.
Yet because Bella Coola lies 100km inland from the outer Pacific, it has much less rainfall than the coast. July through September tend to be dry & sunny.
Journeying to the Bella Coola Valley is a scenic adventure. The Valley stretches 80 km (50 mi) and can be reached by road from Williams Lake, by scheduled flights from Pacific Coastal Airlines & chartered air service, or by BC Ferries or private boat.
There is a 454 km mostly paved road connection by Highway 20 to Williams Lake. The road was built in 1953 by local residents, and features a 15 km ascent from the Valley floor to the Chilcotin plateau, gaining 1600m in elevation to the summit at Heckman Pass, via a number of steep grades & switchbacks. The construction of this road was described in the books “Bella Coola” and “A Road Runs West”.
Bella Coola is served by the Bella Coola Airport (on Highway 20, in Hagensborg), 14 km distant from the townsite which has a 1,280 metre asphalt runway. Pacific Coastal Airlines offers scheduled traffic to Vancouver and Anahim Lake. Charter services by both plane and helicopter are also available.
BC Ferries provides a vehicle/passenger service in the summer (mid-June – mid-September) to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The voyage includes two connecting ferries: the Nimpkish from Bella Coola to Bella Bella then the Northern Expedition to Port Hardy. Reservations are essential as the Nimpkish carries only 16 cars and operates about twice a week. Travellers should be aware that Nimpkish has no amenities and the trip takes 9.5 hours, plus 7 hours on the Northern Expedition. In 2014, the large ferry Queen of Chilliwack which had provided direct service between Bella Coola and Port Hardy since 1995 was cancelled due to provincial government cutbacks.
In 2017, BC Ferries announced the purchase of a 150 passenger, 35-vehicle vessel to again provide direct service between Port Hardy & Bella Coola starting 19 June 2018.
During the rest of the year (mid-September to mid-June), ferry service is provided twice a month and connects Bella Coola to the outlying coastal communities of Bella Bella, Shearwater and Ocean Falls, with passengers able to transfer at McLoughlin Bay (Bella Bella) to a ferry serving either Prince Rupert and Klemtu, or Port Hardy. The sailing schedule varies throughout the season.
Bella Coola History
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 farther 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 Inlet was the eventual choice, its selection giving birth to the city of Vancouver).
In 1894, after their previously-existing community in Minnesota suffered an internal conflict, a group of Norwegian Lutheran settlers were given land grants in the valley, conditional upon land clearing and the construction of residences. 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 Hagensborg and remains one of the main communities of the Bella Coola Valley. 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 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 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 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, processing of locally-caught seafood, 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.
In popular culture
In the 2008 film 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.