Arial view of Bella Coola, British Columbia, the estuary and fiord reaching toward the Pacific.

Bella Coola in August, 2001


The journey to Bella Coola from William's Lake took us through beautiful country. We see cattle roaming the road on their open range. In the distance are the most beautiful snow and glacier covered mountains. Brrrr…Just looking at them make’s me shiver. Lots of beautiful little lakes surrounded by birch trees. Now and then one sees a beaver lodge jutting out of the water, with tell tale dead trees and bushes on the bank. Happy ducks chatter and speed across the water flapping their wings.

The closer we get to Bella Coola, the more the countryside resembles Alaska. Many beautiful little wildflowers. Spectacular scenery after we leave the paved road. It appears to have rained earlier in some spots. We’re hoping the weather continues to stay nice. It’s pretty rough gravel-dirt road for 35-40 miles. The coffee pot rattled out of it’s holder and broke. I’m a little worried about the microwave. We stop at a picnic spot for lunch. Mel fell asleep while I was making a couple of sandwiches, and didn’t seem to want to eat so I let him nap. After finishing my sandwich I decided to use the little half moon house nearby. It’s clean…no odor, but I noticed a big mosquito fly up out of the toilet hole. He’s been waiting for dinner. The little blood sucker got me a couple of times on my bare posterior and was trying for the third time when I nailed him. As he lay there on the floor, feet up and quivering I planted my heel on him to make sure his blood letting days were over.


That over, I went about my business taking pictures of the wildflowers. By the time I was finished Mel had eaten his lunch and was ready to go. We’d picked up a few hungry hitchhikers inside the motor home that we did away with. The next part of the road started out being absolutely beautiful. Huge snow capped mountains in the distance.



Thick forest on each side of the road that was beginning to go into a steep, narrow decent along the canyon wall. Signs warn about landslides and one-way traffic with some turnouts. Many hairpin turns, and since this vehicle is automatic shift, we don’t have the low gears for such a steep descent…so we’re a little tense. Thank God Mel has had driving experience on steep canyon logging roads.

Finally we reached the bottom where the paved road starts again. A short distance away is a campground with a dump station, where we pull in to empty our holding tank. We can smell our brakes. Mel puts the brake on and the peddle goes to the floor. No brakes! We made it just in time. We decide to park a few minutes and let them cool, before we continue on our journey. Call it a miracle or whatever, within minutes we continued on through the lovely valley with it's forests, glacier rivers, green fields and flower gardens.

View of glacier.

"Welcome to Bella Coola!"

The town is a small logging and fishing village. Not much of a main street, but here it is. We drove through town to where the Bella Coola River enters the estuary where the docks and fishing boats are.

We drove out of town to the harbour where we watched some people take their sailboat out of the water. What a job. We wondered what they do with the big mast. Never got to see that. because putting everything in it’s proper place took so long.

The water is a milky blue color from the glaciers nearby. Fishing and logging are the main industries. After exploring the shoreline we drove back to town and stopped at the little museum where Jenny and Jodie were on the job. Jody lived in Bella Coola, while Jenny's home was in Victoria. She worked at the museum during the summer. We browsed through the many historical pictures and stories, and purchased a nice little book that contained many of the same.

Here's Jenny in front of the museum.  I mentioned that I'd love to get a picture of Victoria's Parliament building at night...because it was beautifully outlined with lights. We drove off the ferry on Vancouver Island at night it was the first thing we saw. Anyway, Jenny said she'd send us a picture when she got home. (She sent four different views of it.)

Beautiful isn't it? The girls told us about a couple of good places to have dinner. The closest was just down the street.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner, and admired the lovely flowers. Before we leave I have to give you a little more about this place. The history of the original people at Bella Coola is told in stories belonging to each family village, in research, and in photos and writings by early visitors to the area. The river is a good provider of fish year round. Dolly varden (char), whitefish, and cut throat and rainbow trout. The ooligan and several species of salmon spend their life at sea and return to spawn. In July1793 Alexander Mackenzie arrived in the area with his Native and French Canadian companions seeking a passage by sea, North-East or North-West from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

The continent turned out to be larger than imagined on early maps, and the final part of the journey was made on foot instead of water, but  the boundaries of the continent were established from the Atlantic sea to the Arctic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Here's the rock where Mackenzie inscribed his name before turning back.

Moving Bella Coola church in 1935

European settlers began showing up in the Bella Coola valley between 1840's and 1890's. Some had received land in for military service. Others were here to supply the fur trade and gold-seekers traveling to the interior. Major non-native settlement of the valley occurred after B.F. Jacobsen, a Norwegian, visited the area in 1884. He mapped the valley for potential farmland and convinced the government to survey the valley for settlement. He also promoted the area in Norwegian newspapers. Finally a clergyman in Minnesota responded and arrived with a boatload of settlers. We noted lots of Norwegian names on mailboxes and signs.

Despite the history concerning Indians, English and Norwegians...the name Bella Coola just didn't seem to fit in with the area. Somehow it had a Mediterranean, or South American sound to us. Later, we were chatting with some friends in Alleghany, and mentioned our trip to Bella Coola. The Italian looked surprised, and laughed, "Do you know what Bella Coola means in Italian? We answered that we didn't have the slightest idea. "It refers to a woman's pretty posterior."  We all laughed and decided that there was an Italian in the picture somewhere. The explorer MacKenzie probably met him near an Indian village, and pointing to an Indian maiden, asked the no-speaka-da English Italian what tribe she belonged to...and smiling appreciatively he replied "Bella Coola!"

Alexander MacKenzie