Highway 20 - The Freedom Road
Private Initiative Gets The Job Done
Before 1953, the Bella Coola Valley was an isolated outpost on the central coast of British Columbia without road access. The only convenient way to get there was by boat.
Although there had been a couple of government attempts to survey a route up and out of the valley, the great depression of the 1930's and then the second world war put a halt to any further work. After the war, Provincial authorities decided against building the road, citing the expense and the difficulty of the terrain.
Not to be deterred, the locals started the work themselves. With only two bulldozers starting from opposite ends, supplies bought on credit, and a labour force that only had the promise of being paid, they clawed their own way up and out of the valley. The work took one year and two weeks to complete. It connected Bella Coola to Anahim Lake with 76 km (48m) of new road way, had three switch backs, and climbed 1,818 metres (6,000 ft) in 21 km (13m) from the bottom of the "Hill" to Heckman pass. The most impressive part is the first 6.4 km, where the road climbs 1,219 metres (4,000 ft) with grades of up to 18 percent.
After the road was built the Provincial authorities agreed to take over maintenance of the road and have upgraded it many times. Even though the section from Anahim Lake to the bottom of the "Hill" is still dirt, it is well graded and can easily be driven by standard model cars. It takes about one hour.
Today the road is officially known as Highway 20, but is still referred to locally as the "Freedom Road" to commemorate the earlier years of isolation.
One other notable fact about the "Freedom Road" is that it is only the third route to the Pacific on the entire West Coast of Canada.