...to the Heiltsuk, Bella Bella forms a national capital of sorts to an unceded traditional territory of 16,658 square kilometres.
Founded between 1897 and 1903, Bella Bella is located on Campbell Island.
Originally styled New Bella Bella to distinguish it from "Bella Bella", the community's official post office name for some time was Waglisla, meaning "river on the beach" in the Heiltsuk language. Old Bella Bella, the Heiltsuk village site that is located south of the current village was known as Bella Bella. As it grew, a post office was located in the store. When the Heiltsuk relocated their settlement to the north, the post office, and the name Bella Bella, moved – first to the store in the BC Packers Cannery, then to the village of Shearwater. The post office name was retained while moving location several times. This is a source of confusion and the reason 'Bella Bella' sometimes appears on Denny Island rather than Campbell Island on some Provincial maps.
The Hudson's Bay Company's Fort McLoughlin was near the same location, which is on McLoughlin Bay.
With a population of 1,400, Bella Bella is the largest community to be found on the Central Coast north of Queen Charlotte Strait. It is home to the Heiltsuk First Nation. Like many small communities on the coast, such as nearby Ocean Falls, Bella Bella has had a precarious and isolated existence. The closing of coastal cannery towns and decreased need for coastal shipping reduced the importance of Bella Bella's port.
However, the resumption of ferry services by BC Ferries and the introduction of an air link from Vancouver via Port Hardy by Pacific Coastal Airlines have revived Bella Bella. There are scheduled flights from Bella Bella Airport onward to Klemtu and Ocean Falls. Services in Bella Bella include a large general store, the Bella Bella Community School, Alexa's restaurant, the Koeye Cafe, the Thistalalh Memorial Library, an RCMP police station, the Bella Bella Medical Clinic, staffed by 3 physicians and a Nurse Practitioner, and R.W. Large Memorial Hospital and its pharmacy. The CIBC bank branch closed in 2007.
The village of Bella Bella was previously known as Waglisla to the Canadian Postal Service; the postal address changed to Bella Bella in October 2007.
Bella Bella is a Heiltsuk village situated on Campbell Island, British Columbia. Today Bella Bella is the main Heiltsuk community within Heiltsuk traditional territory. The village was initially located at McLoughlin Bay, south of the current location but moved between 1898 and the early 19th Century to the present site. Heiltsuk oral history tells of a dispute with the store owner at the original town. The store owner had acquired the land that had been the old HBC fort and would not allow the community to expand on 'his' land – prompting the entire community to abandon the site and move to a larger site – the present location of the village.
During the early period Bella Bella was composed of relatively new European-style houses and a boardwalk. By 1903 the new town was fairly well established. The mission was complete with hospital, mission house and school which doubled as church.
Methodist Missionaries played a significant role during this period, functioning as colonial agents, magistrates, ministers, as well as medical doctors. A Missionary Hospital was established, as well as a church and school. The current hospital in Bella Bella evolved from this early missionary hospital.
"The one-room school stood in a clearing beside the church, at the fringe of the dense bush that stubbornly tried to reclaim the half-mile stretch of territory occupied by the village."
Confusion over the name and location of 'Bella Bella'
The origin of the name Bella Bella has several stories. It originally was associated with the Heiltsuk people and the community of Heiltsuk people that developed where the Hudson Bay Company built Fort McLoughlin.
Fort McLoughlin operated between 1832 and 1842. When the fort was closed, the village remained. At some point a white trader acquired 'legal' title to the land that the fort had occupied. This trader operated a store for some time on the site during the late 1800s. His store incorporated a postal service – using the name Bella Bella. When the Heiltsuk relocated to the current site of Bella Bella – the store went out of business and the postal operation was moved across the channel to the BC Packers cannery site. Eventually this also closed and the postal service was moved to the small non-Aboriginal community of Shearwater. When the Heiltsuk began operating a postal service in their community – the name Bella Bella was not available – so the alternate name – Waglisla was used.
After several years of effort – the Heiltsuk were able to have the name Bella Bella returned to the postal service in the community. The name was changed in 2007. As a result of this history – the name Bella Bella can be seen in four different locations in the Central Coast maps – depending on when they were created and how up to date they are.
The Heiltsuk move their community from McLoughlin Bay (Qelc or Old Bella Bella) to the site of the present-day village of Bella Bella, BC.
By 1903 New Bella Bella, now just known Bella Bella (aka Waglisla) was fairly well established following the move from McLoughlin Bay.
Canadian Royal Commission known as the McKenna-McBride Commission visits Bella Bella.
1975 The Canadian National Film Board (NFB) documentary "Bella Bella"
1993 'Qatuwas Canoe Festival
In 1993 the Heiltsuk hosted an ocean-going canoe festival at Bella Bella. Called 'Qatuwas – the event was an important milestone in the ongoing renaissance in Northwest Coast Ocean-going canoes. Some 25 canoes from First Nations up and down the coast paddled to Bella Bella for a week-long cultural sharing event.
1997 R. v. Gladstone
The Supreme Court of Canada recognized the Heiltsuk have a pre-existing Aboriginal right to Herring that entails a commercial component.
2014 'Qatuwas Canoe Festival
A second 'Qatuwas festival was held in Bella Bella in 2014.
2015 Herring Crisis
The 2015 herring season saw a crisis erupt over a long-simmering dispute between the Heiltsuk and Canada (DFO). Citing concern for the stocks and Heiltsuk rights, as well as taking issue with DFO predictive models, the Heiltsuk occupied the local DFO office for 4 days. The crisis abated when the remainder of the commercial herring fleet departed and the Heiltsuk and Canada agreed to discuss the next season's management.
June 30, 2015 Potlatch in Bella Bella to ratify the Heiltsuk-Haida Peace treaty, a formal agreement that builds on the peace treaty of 1852 that ended the war between the two Nations.
The 13-million-year-old mafic dike swarms in the Bella Bella area were formed by the Anahim hotspot when this part of North America was directly overhead. The dikes are believed to mark the first arrival of the hotspot, although it is now located in central British Columbia at Nazko Cone.