History After European Contact
First Contact and Settlement
In 1793 Captain Vancouver, sailing for the British Crown, explored the fjords leading up to the Bella Coola Valley and was the first European to encounter the Nuxalkmc First Nations people. By coincidence, only seven weeks later, the second European group arrived. Explorer Alexander Mackenzie and his voyageurs, in search of the north west passage, had canoed and walked across the continent and completed the first documented crossing of the Americas north of Mexico.
For the next 55 years there was very little activity and Bella Coola was a forgotten corner of the British Empire. This began to change in 1850's and 1860's when Bella Coola was briefly an important supply port for the newly discovered Cariboo gold fields in the interior of the province. In 1867 the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post in Bella Coola.
After that little changed until 1892, when 16 settlers arrived to become the first permanent non-native residents in the Valley. Two years later additional homesteads were granted to a large group of Norwegian-speaking colonists from Minnesota. They established the community of Hagensborg 15 kilometres up valley from the fjord and to this day the valley has a distinct Norwegian feel with many Norwegian place names. These people became the first commercial loggers, fishermen and farmers in the area.
In these early days, the settlers who had originally arrived to farm the valley, found commercial fishing to be more lucrative. They caught Spring and Sockeye Salmon and from the late 1890's until the development of commercial refrigeration in the middle of the 20th century, canning fish was big business. Numerous canneries dotted the coast, including Tallheo Cannery close to the mouth of the Bella Coola River.
The seeds of future tourism were sown in 1931 with the building of Stuie Lodge and in 1938 with the opening of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park: the largest protected area in B.C.
Through the first half of the twentieth century Bella Coola remained isolated from the rest of the province. Local labour and volunteer effort changed this in 1953, when the “Freedom Road” was pushed over the mountains to Anahim Lake. Now connected to the provincial highway system, the Valley became the “Third Outlet to the Pacific”.
Historical Information Courtesy of the Bella Coola Valley Museum (http://www.bellacoolamuseum.ca)