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A Brief History

Before any formal written history, the Nuxalkmc people have lived in what is now known as the Bella Coola Valley (and surrounding areas) for millennia. As the stewards of the land and water, the Nuxalkmc people of Bella Coola historically used the Bella Coola River and well established ‘Grease Trails’ as trade corridors between coastal and interior regions. The Bella Coola and Atnarko Rivers had several villages along their length and in exchange for salmon and eulachon (candle fish) grease, interior indigenous people traded furs and leather. For more information click here Nuxalk Nation community history.

In 1793, the explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie made Bella Coola the western terminus of his overland trek across Canada, the first European crossing of the North American continent by land north of Mexico. He arrived in the Bella Coola Valley by "Grease Trail" and was assisted by Nuxalkmc in his journey to the Pacific.

Colonization by Europeans began in the 1800s. In the 1850s and 1860s the Bella Coola Valley became a route to the Cariboo gold fields, with a permanently established Hudson's Bay Company trading post built in 1867.

Following the arrival of Europeans, the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s completely obliterated the population of many Nuxalk villages and devastated many others in and around the Bella Coola Valley. Many families were lost along with their creation stories and traditions. The survivors from surrounding villages came together in Q’umk’uts’ Village near Bella Coola. These survivors are the ancestors of the resilient Nuxalk Nation


In the 1890s Norwegian colonists arrived in Bella Coola beginning the first agricultural and rural development of the Central Coast. Be sure to visit the Bella Coola Museum for more information on these historic times.

Hagen B. Christensen, an early Norwegian settler, was the first store keeper and post master in the settlement then known as Kristiania near the site of the present Bella Coola Mountain Lodge. Kristiania was later renamed Hagen's Borg after the postmaster ("borg" meaning castle or fortress in Norwegian). During renovations in the 1980s, documents penned by Hagen B. Christensen recovered in a "time capsule" from the original walls of our lodge confirmed that the hand hewn log structure was an original settlement building within this community. Farming, lumber, and fishing industries began shortly after Norwegian settlement of Bella Coola and Hagensborg.

Until 1953, without a connecting highway, Bella Coola remained isolated from conventional overland travel relying solely on boats and horse travel over the Chilcotin Plateau. From 1951 to 1953, residents of Bella Coola donated their time, energy, equipment and money to construct a road over Heckman Pass to connect the Valley with Highway 20 at Anahim Lake. In August 1953, the Freedom Road was finally completed allowing overland travel from Bella Coola to Williams Lake and beyond. The spectacular stretch of Highway 20 east of Bella Coola, known locally as The Hill, is 43 km of steep, narrow road with switchbacks, gaining approximately 1,600 m (5000 ft) elevation with gradients up to 18%. It is truly one of the most spectacular drives in British Columbia from the Chilcotin Plateau to the lush rain forest of the Great Bear descending 5000ft to nearly sea level.

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