An Amazing Adventure to Bella Coola

Usually our amazing adventures happen when we’re on the road somewhere, singing for quilters.  But this time, it happened when we took a “busman’s vacation” and made a huge loop around British Columbia.  John has old friends in Bella Coola, 2/3 of the way up the coast of BC, who have been inviting us to visit for a long time. We also had a family reunion in Fort Steele, on the southeastern side of BC to attend.   We decided to combine the two into a real vacation.

We started by driving “up-Island” to Port Hardy, stopping with friends for lunch on the way.  Our dinner was in a pub overlooking the harbour, and we counted lots of bald eagles on the other side of the bay.  The next morning we got up bright and early and embarked on a 13 hour ferry ride to Bella Coola, BC.  We were hoping to see some whales and enjoy the Inside Passage.

One of the benefits of living on an island is that it’s almost always a boat ride to or from wherever we want to go.  And travelling by boat is wonderful. I think the ferries in BC are of the best in the world, too, which made this voyage very pleasant.  There is a cafeteria on the Queen of Chilliwack, and they promised a special meal for dinner – a barbecue on the aft deck! We settled into our seats and I took out my 1/4″ hexagon project, while John opened his first book.  13 hours is a long time!

The bears came to see us off at the Port Hardy ferry terminal.

The bears came to see us off at the Port Hardy ferry terminal.

The first part of the sail was very calm and cloudy. Not much happening outside the boat except fishermen at that hour of the morning.  The captain came over the PA system once in a while with “whales off the starboard side” and we all dutifully got our cameras out to see if we could catch them breaching or spyhopping, or just catch them on camera at all.  The orcas don’t come too close to the ferry, but we did see them. The humpbacks have a less pronounced dorsal fin and are much larger, so they were easy to differentiate them.  There continued to be lots of eagles throughout the day. It was nicely paced, so I could continue to sew my hexagons between sightings. They even showed a couple of movies to while away the hours.  The day cleared up a bit as we chugged north. I was getting a lot of hexagons sewn.

Then we turned into Burks Channel, still five hours away from Bella Coola. Dinner was served, and we dined royally on BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, baked potatoes and great salads. And then the captain announced dolphins sighted ahead.

We had finished our dinner, so we went out on deck, hoping to see some dolphins.  We know that they love to play in the bow wave of boats, and so we were heading to the bow of the boat, but we didn’t have to go that far.  As we looked across the water, there were shapes breaking the surface everywhere, and some of them were headed our way.  They were ALL dolphins!

Dolphins beside the boat in Burks Channel

Dolphins beside the boat in Burks Channel

For the next 4 kilometres or so we stayed on the deck and watched these wonderful creatures having fun.  I was told by one of the crew that if they slow the boat down, the dolphins lose interest and return to their feeding. They want to race!  We were going at a good clip and they effortlessly kept up.  As we passed their feeding area, they would be replaced by another batch, swimming beside us, occasionally leaping in the air, or diving underneath the boat.  A flip of the tail, and they were gone.  It was enormously entertaining. It is a regulary occurrence in these waters, to see so many dolphins at once.  We saw hundreds, if not a thousand dolphins, including babies, in a half an hour!  I will never forget it.

We arrived at 10:30pm, and followed Bev and Colin to their home in Hagensborg, just east of Bella Coola. They have lived there for several years, having moved from North Vancouver.  Hagensborg was settled by Norwegians are there are still old Norwegian houses in town. We got the full tour the next day.

Bella Coola is famous for a couple of reasons. One, it is where Sir Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean overland from the east in 1793.  When he arrived, he carved a stone with the words “Alex Mackenzie From Canada by land 22nd July 1793”. Alas, the park where the stone resides is only accessible by boat. We will have to save that for another time.  The other reason for Bella Coola’s fame is for the Bella Coola dugout canoe.  If you visit the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, the first canoe you will see is one of these very early canoes from Bella Coola. A whole tree, carved out, usually laden down with the oily Oolichan fish, which once silvered the waters of the Bella Coola River. Now, the fish are almost gone and there wasn’t a dugout canoe anywhere in town.  But it was a fascinating visit, all the same.

After spending a day with Colin and Bev we loaded the car again and headed east and south by road. The road out of the Bella Coola Valley is infamous, and on local maps is just called “The Hill”.  12 kilometres of unpaved mountain road winding up from the valley, often single-lane with no guard rails.  It is the only way out of Bella Coola by road, so people drive it in all seasons.  18-wheelers drive it to deliver supplies to the communities, and tourists drive their rented RVs, locals drive it to the larger communities like Williams Lake for shopping.  Happily, we drove it on the Sunday morning of the August long weekend, so it wasn’t too busy.  The road was in good condition and offered some really lovely views, but we couldn’t pull over to take pictures!!!  We can now say we’ve done “The Hill”.

Going up on Highway 20

Going up on Highway 20

The rest of the weekend was great – we stayed with John’s sister and brother-in-law in Fort Steele, and had a great family reunion. Stopped off in Creston on our way west to say hello to Beth and Jean Swalwell, who until last year ran Quiltview Corner (alas, now closed). They are both well, and enjoying retirement from the shop. We picked some cherries from Beth’s trees, and happily munched as we drove to Oliver for the night.

We’ll be back in this area in a couple of weeks when we sing at the Spencer Hill orchard on August 29th.  It will be a very picturesque place to sing, and we’re looking forward to singing amid the fruit trees.

British Columbia is a very productive and beautiful place, especially in the summer. We stopped at the fruit markets in Keremeos before we got home to buy apricots, peaches, pickling cukes and garlic. I’m going back into canning mode as soon as we get home!

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One Response to “An Amazing Adventure to Bella Coola”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Hi Cathy! Great blog. I loved the story of your ferry ride and the dolphins.

    Talk to you soon!

    Michelle in Canberra

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