One River, Two Cultures: A History of the Bella Coola Valley


288 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55017-354-5
DDC 971.1'1






Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

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


Aboriginal and European cultures continue to be bound together by the
environment of the Bella Coola Valley. The valley’s original
inhabitants are the Nuxalk, a highly organized, socially stratified
culture. In a conversational and uncomplicated manner, Wild documents
its complexities, including the relationship of families within the
culture and between Aboriginal culture groups.

Details are provided of Alexander Mackenzie’s journey to the coast
from Athabasca (1793) and Palmer’s success in becoming the first
European to map a land route into the Bella Coola Valley (1860s). The
influx of traders and missionaries brought cultural change, including
diseases that devastated Aboriginal villages. Germans arrived in the
valley, where they developed their long-standing romantic interest in
North American “Red Indians.” They were followed by the Norwegians,
who saw the Bella Coola Valley as a place where Norwegians could forget
that they were not at home.

A riveting presentation is given of the chronology of the floods in the
valley; a number of rivers fed the fertile flood plain that makes up the
valley bottom. The floods have forced communities to move from one side
of the valley to another, as bridges have been destroyed and land
shifted, disappearing with the new flood plains created. Finally, no
story of the Bella Coola Valley could be complete without details of the
Freedom Road. As Wild and others attest, nothing that you are told can
prepare you for driving “The Hill.”

Wild’s focus is on human habitation and coexistence between cultures
and with the environment. Building on the work of Boas, McIlwraith,
Kopas, and the stories of Nuxalkmc elders and European settlers, her
meticulously researched book is informative, well-written, clearly
organized, and a unique contribution to the literature on Bella Coola.
Archival and contemporary photographs are included.


Wild, Paula., “One River, Two Cultures: A History of the Bella Coola Valley,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024,