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Norwegian Settlement in the Bella Coola Valley

HBC PostIn 1894, approximately 80 Norwegian people emigrated from Minnesota to Bella Coola, becoming the largest non-Native settlement group in the valley. It is important to note that about 8 non-Native people were living in the valley prior to 1894, including the families of John Clayton and Thor Thorsen. The Nuxalkmc, of course, occupied the valley and the outer coast for thousands of years prior to contact with Europeans.

Why Bella Coola?

Spurred by an economic depression in the United States and disagreement within the Lutheran Church, Reverend Christian Saugstad, a member of a Norwegian settlement in Crookston, Minnesota, was looking for a new location for his congregation. At the same time, the Canadian government was encouraging Scandinavian, German and British immigrants to settle in British Columbia . Furthermore, a Norwegian anthropologist, B.F. Jacobsen had written favourably about Bella Coola as being ideal for settlement. He described the area as having plenty of fertile land, abundant natural resources, and an environment much like Norway, with its snow-capped mountain peaks and long fjords.

The Beginning:

As part of an agreement with the Minister of Immigration, each settler was offered the deed to 160 acres upon clearing the land, building a house and improving the property. On October 27, 1894 the colonists and five additional Norwegians from Seattle left Victoria on the Princess Louise, and three days later they entered the North Bentinck Arm. Local native peoples and Captain Thor Thorsen's daughter met them in spoon canoes, and took the settlers and their goods up the Bella Coola River. Their first winter was spent building homes, packing supplies and clearing land. The next year's highlights included the first public meeting, a post office in Bella Coola run by Thor Thorsen, the arrival of 98 new colonists, additional roads and bridges, collection of taxes, a general store and post office in Kristiania (later called Hagensborg) by Hagen Christiansen, the first Norwegian wedding, planting gardens, and building a school.

Moving the Community:

In 1904 the settlers began to build a town on the north side of the Bella Coola River. Many businesses began here and some were moved over from the south side. A mile long wharf and bridges across the Bella Coola River were also erected for this community. Most of the Native community at Q’umk’uts also decided to move over to the area. Although the location was ideal for receiving goods brought by ship, it was also subject to severe flooding. In the 1930's Nuxalk and Norwegian residents were forced to move back to the south side of the river.

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