Bella Coola Village

Bicycle Touring 

818 words 

Bella Coola Village; Terry Connellan

Cultural mix shows diversity

Formed by an ice age that ended 10,000 years 
ago, the Bella Coola valley is ours to enjoy and 
explore today. Home to less than 2,000 people, 
with an economy based on agriculture, fishing 
and logging, it is a fascinating place. 

First visited by "outsiders" in the late 18th century 
when George Vancouver and Alexander Mackenzie 
arrived within six weeks of each other, and never met. 
          
A hundred years later immigrants, including American 
farmers of Norwegian descent, came to the valley to 
establish the communities of Hagensborg, Firvale and 
Stuie. The record of 200 years of white residence in the 
valley is interesting. Blended with thousands of years 
of native occupancy it becomes fascinating, for this is 
the home of the Nuxalk (pronounced Newhawk) Nation. 

Most surprising of all is the size, and diversity of the 
cultural community, native and white. Writers, carvers, 
sculptors, potters, painters, etc.. On arrival, the visitor 
is immediately immersed in its effect, and spellbound 
by its variety. Visually it is a feast of color on buildings 
and other signs of the complimentary coexistence of 
cultures.

Now passed on in her late eighties. Sightless, Isobel 
Edwards, author and storyteller, came at 14 "old enough 
to be interested in boys, and there were lots of them, 
"to visit her sister and" ...I stayed to marry the Hudson's 
Bay Factor on The Union Steamship." Her memories 
were lucid, her descriptions vivid, "Charlotte Lake was 
beastly hot in the summertime and colder than charity 
in the winter." On occasion, she will entertained visitors 
by the busload at the Cedar Inn. 

The community is still mourning the passing, at 82, of      
story teller, grizzly hunter, and guide to Hollywood Stars 
and Statesmen, Clayton Mack. Even a stroke in recent 
years failed to stifle the spirit that beguiled and entertained 
all those who came within his range. I treasure the memory 
of our conversations, spiced by tales of his encounters 
(seven of them) with Sasquatch, backed up by the plaster 
cast of a footprint. 

Artists, Alvin Mack, Alan Nelson, Joe Mack, Kathy Moore, 
and among the most notable, Harry Schooner. His work 
is everywhere, carvings of wood and silver, paintings on 
buildings or in frames. 

I first met Harry while he was making Sluk (slow-smoked 
salmon.) A few days later we talked again over a lunch 
of barbecued salmon and boiled potatoes eaten with 
the hands, and dipped sparingly in Eulachon oil. 
           
Eulachon oil is a delicacy, and trading in it, a tradition 
amongst the peoples of the area. There have even 
been wars fought over its possession. It is difficult to 
describe the strong taste, delicious, but a little bit goes 
a long way, and it has a way of  "repeating"  the way 
cod liver oil used to halfway through the morning in 
school. Remember?

Bella Coola is the place to spend a "Tom Sawyer 
Summer." A better base camp than Anahim Lake 
for exploring the trails of Tweedsmuir Park, and 
to access all that the Central Coast has to offer. 

Combine a fishing trip by charter boat with a visit 
to the terminus of Alexander Mackenzie's search 
for the route to the Pacific, just 50 kilometres 
out in Dean Channel, where he he wrote on the 
southeast face of a rock "Alexander Mackenzie 
from Canada by land, the 22nd of July, 1793."
 
Contact the Band Office and you'll be introduced 
to Darren Edgar the Bella Coola Goodwill 
Ambassador. He will make arrangements to 
take you to the petroglyphs, and introduce you 
to the Nuxalk culture. 

We parked our bikes one day and hired Steve's 
McKenzie Taxi to give us "the tour." It turned out 
to be a low cost treat. If you call ahead of time, 
982-2323, Interfor conducts bus and boat tours 
into Camp II on South Bentick Arm. On the way 
you'll be introduced to the Big Cedar, a giant of 
a tree with a diameter at its base of more than 
5 metres. 

At the peak of a 16km climb there is a beautiful 
campsite at Blue Jay Lake. Interfor and the BC 
Forest Service have built and are maintaining 
a number of trails including the wheelchair 
accessible Salloompt Forest Trail. Odegaard 
Falls Trail waits to be hiked or ridden on 
horseback and bike. 

There are hot springs, to be discovered and 
luxuriated in, at Tallheo on South Bentinck 
Arm and Nascall in Dean Channel. 
        
Gymkhanas, rodeos and fall fairs provide 
opportunities to meet and get to know, the 
people of the valley and experience their 
warm hospitality. 
           
Bella Coola is far more than a way station 
on Mr. Mackenzies path to the Pacific. It 
is one of the few communities in BC with 
a waiting list of Doctors seeking to move 
in. An oasis of year round sports, culture, 
and scenic beauty. It's a camera clicker's 
paradise.     

Terry Connellan is a veteran back roads 
traveller. He occasionally shares his 
adventures, and favorite places with readers.     



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