The Road Runs West: A Century Along the Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road


276 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55017-114-3
DDC 388.1'09711





Reviewed by Nora D.S. Robins

Nora D.S. Robins is the co-ordinator of internal collections at the
University of Calgary Libraries.


British Columbia has three routes to the coast: the Trans-Canada Highway
to Vancouver; Highway 16, the Yellowhead, to Prince Rupert; and Highway
20, the Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road. The Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road
(“three hundred miles of back road to nowhere much”) is neither well
known nor well traveled. It begins in the heart of the Cariboo at the
town of Williams Lake and heads west, crossing the Fraser River and
climbing to the Chilcotin Plateau and over the Coast Mountain range to
the small coastal village of Bella Coola.

Bella Coola, situated on the north arm of Burke Channel, was a small
Indian village when Alexander Mackenzie arrived in 1793. The Hudson’s
Bay Company operated a trading post in the Chilcotin territory between
1829 and 1844. The gold rush of the 1860s resulted in development of the
Cariboo/Chilcotin region and the establishment of a number of
communities, including Williams Lake in 1863. The Bella Coola/Chilcotin
Road had its beginning in the gold rush, when prospectors and early
settlers were attracted to the region. In 1894, a colony of some 200
Norwegians, chiefly from Minnesota, settled in Bella Coola and joined
the Indians in developing a mixed farming and fishing economy.

It was almost 100 years before the two communities were joined via the
Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road. From the 1950s to 1970s, it was considered
the longest and worst road in British Columbia, notorious for its bog
holes, switchbacks, and washouts. This is the story of that road, and of
the people who hacked it out of the wilderness and settled by it:
innkeepers, storekeepers, farmers, ranchers, cowboys, teachers,
midwives, Natives, truckers. Diana French has lived in the Chilcotin
since the 1950s. Her fascinating history of the region and its people is
enhanced by maps, black-and-white photographs, a bibliography of books
and newspapers, and a very useful index.


French, Diana., “The Road Runs West: A Century Along the Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,