Road Trip to Bella Coola and the Chilcotins, Canada

Category: Canada | North America

Have you ever travelled the ten hours on a BC Ferry from the top of Vancouver Island to the Chilcotins in British Columbia after arriving at the ferry slip at 5 am because it takes a whole chunk of time to load cars, trucks and campers on a tiny ferry, and then been delighted to find an excellent breakfast aboard the ferry once you finally boarded?  We did and we tucked ourselves up for a short nap after that excellent breakfast along with almost everyone else.

BC Ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola


BC Ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada

This was just the beginning of our trip to Bella Coola  and the Chilcotins last September, starting with the ferry ride from Port Hardy.  We visited  5000-year-old petroglyphs accompanied by a guide from the Indigenous peoples of the area, the Nuxalk and then experienced our guide chanting and drumming his people’s stories of the Creator. Do you know how Raven helped the Nuxalk get the sun? 

Always a crafty bird, Raven managed to impregnate the Creator’s daughter who bore him a son.  The Nuxalk had no sun and had to go to the Creator every day to get sun for that day, but the baby boy kept begging his granddad to let him play with a huge crystal ball that the grandfather had stored away.  Finally, the Creator gave in and the lad took the ball, smashed it on the floor and, suddenly, the Nuxalk had ongoing light. 

We stayed first at the motel operated by the Nuxalk people in Bella Coola and visited their ancestral lands about 20 minutes out of town. There, at Acwsakcta School (kindergarten to Grade 12) for Indigenous children, drumming, chanting and dance are taught, as well as traditional cooking.  There is wonderful Nuxalk art in the foyer and a collection of totem poles outside.  And an amazing piece of Nuxalk art outside the school honouring the Nuxalk children who survived the residential schools.  Nuxalk art can easily take its place beside that of Haida Gwai.


Nuxalk Tribute Mask honouring the students of the Residential Schools

The gift shop, Mamayu, has only Indigenous wares and we discovered some lovely Indigenous remembrances to bring home with us.  There are several galleries in the area with astounding Nuxalk artworks. One of them, the Copper Sun Gallery, is also the local Tourist Information Center. Located on the main street in Bella Coola, that’s where you can book raft trips and tours of the petroglyphs.


Rafting down the Bella Coola River

Later we bumped along a forest road, (emphasis on forest, not road), actually wishing we had a 4×4 and then wandered on foot along a wilderness trail to a small stream where grizzlies were fishing and discovered a beautiful memorial to a Nuxalk elder.  Donning life jackets and rubber boots, we floated on a raft down the Bella Coola river, enjoying the peace of the wilderness and more fishing grizzlies.  Through an accidental meeting in a gallery, we were invited to an afternoon concert featuring well-known Canadian fiddlers and then returned that evening to join in the country dancing with families including babes in arms.


Wandering bear in the Chilcotins, BC

“Bear Cottage,” one of a collection of cottages close to Tweedsmuir Park, is so comfortable and well equipped, that it feels like home.  We enjoyed the wonderful collection of photographs of grizzlies gifted to the owners of the cottage and were amused by the towels in the spacious bathroom that have tiny brown grizzlies appliqued on them.  The TV can be a bit sketchy but we didn’t care because we had had a wonderfully full day and were content to cook dinner and just relax. 

Driving the spine-tingling road up the slopes of Tweedsmuir Park, with its precipitous drop on the passenger side, we emerged on the wonderfully wide sunlit roads of the Caribou.  The temptation to put your foot down on the accelerator was irresistible.  And over 140 kms/hr seemed just about right!

We visited the Lodge in Tweedsmuir Park and admired the wonderful collection of Nuxhalk masks on the wall of the dining roomand when we asked, hesitantly, if we might photograph them, been heartily encouraged to do so.


Nuxalk Mask at Tweedsmuir Lodge

If You Go…

I genuinely recommend the BC ferry as the way to get there but with a few cautions.  Book early, because it is a little ferry and it fills up quickly.  Also look for accommodation early.  And it is best to go before Labour Day. 

We weren’t able to see the  Bella Coola Valley Museum, the  historic Tallheo Cannery, or  the Norwegian Heritage House in Hagenborg because we were there in September and many of those places are staffed by students and only in the summer.  Don’t miss it!

About the Author

Ann was born and grew up in Vancouver. She is the mother of four, the grandmother of seven and, ta da, the great grandmother of one with another on the way.

She has always loved travelling and her first major adventure was taking her four children, ages 3 through 12 to England and Europe for five months. They drove a van and camped everywhere. Since then, her travels have known few boundaries, both in North America and overseas.

Photo credits:  Ray Frost

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