Bella Coola: "… a romantic history…"


308 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Index
ISBN 1-894384-44-X
DDC 971.1'32





Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

Marilyn Mardiros is an associate professor of health sciences at the
University of Ottawa.


The colourful past of a remote section of British Columbia is brought to
life in this historical narrative based on personal reminiscences,
stories, diaries and letters from local people, news clippings, and

The Bella Coola Valley is the traditional home of the Coast Salish
Nuxalk people, who traded along the Nuxalk (Coastal)-Carrier (Interior)
Grease Trail. In 1973, Alexander Mackenzie travelled across Canada and
entered the Bella Coola Valley, completing the first recorded
exploration across North America, 12 years before Lewis and Clark. White
settlement occurred with the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company and
the rush to the Cariboo gold fields in the mid-1860s, followed by
missionaries in the 1880s and Norwegian colonists in the mid-1890s.
Throughout this period, the challenging physical environment
necessitated dependence and interdependence among people.

Bella Coola is located 90 kilometres up a fiord from the ocean, and is
560 kilometres from Vancouver by sea and 1008 kilometres by road. Upon
leaving the Chilcoton Plateau, the only overland route to Bella Coola
was by horseback until 1953 when the local communities completed the
Freedom Road (“the Hill”). This road is over 48 kilometres long and
descends approximately 2000 metres with dozens of steep hairpin
switchbacks on the mountainside, making it one of Canada’s premier
road-trip adventures. Kopas presents a riveting account of how
“locals” surmounted numerous obstacles to build this road.

Bella Coola: “… a romantic history …” was first published in
1971. This welcome reprint contains minimal references, yet the material
is supported by academic sources and scholarly work such as that found
in the museum at Bella Coola. Maps and photographs complement the
engaging text.


Kopas, Cliff., “Bella Coola: "… a romantic history…",” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,