In 1894, some 100 Norwegian colonists journeyed from Minnesota to the Bella Coola Valley and founded a settlement called Hagensborg, located on Hwy. 20 just 16km/10mi east of Bella Coola. With its long fjords snaking to the sea, the striking landscape around the new community reminded the settlers of their Norwegian homeland, and before long the region’s first non-native farming, lumber and fishing industries were up and running, followed by the town’s first school, which opened in a large communal tent in 1895.
Today, travellers can still catch a glimpse of Hagensborg life in the 1800s by touring the town’s Norwegian Heritage House or by visiting the valley’s visitor centre in Bella Coola. Built at the turn of the 20th century by settler Andrew Svisdahl, the site is a late-1800s time capsule furnished in traditional Norwegian fashion and displaying the household tools of more than a century ago. Augsburg United Church, built in 1904 as a Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, is another local historic building worth exploring, and one where parishioners are still welcomed – alongside a cemetery that poignantly memorializes the history of those who journeyed so far to realize their dreams of a new life.
The local hiking trails also offer a sense of the valley’s profound impact on its early settlers, including excellent vistas of the valley and Nusatsum Mountain from tiny Lost Lake’s picnic site (accessed by following the Lost Lake Trail on the north side of the Bella Coola River). The well-marked wheelchair-accessible Saloompt Forest Trail has interpretive scenic meanderings alongside the Bella Coola River, through an old-growth forest with picnic tables and benches.
Bella Coola Airport, just outside Hagensborg, provides daily, scheduled flights to and from Vancouver and charters to local glaciers, fishing areas and other coastal destinations.