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