In 1894, a group of approximately 80 Norwegian people from Minnesota settled in Bella Coola, becoming the largest non-Native group in the area. Prior to their arrival, there were only about 8 non-Native people living in the valley, including the families of John Clayton and Thor Thorsen. The Nuxalkmc had inhabited the valley and the outer coast for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
The decision to settle in Bella Coola was influenced by several factors. Reverend Christian Saugstad, a member of a Norwegian settlement in Crookston, Minnesota, was seeking a new location for his congregation due to economic depression in the United States and disagreement within the Lutheran Church. Additionally, the Canadian government was encouraging Scandinavian, German, and British immigrants to settle in British Columbia. A Norwegian anthropologist, B.F. Jacobsen, had also written favorably about Bella Coola, describing it as an area with plenty of fertile land, abundant natural resources, and an environment similar to Norway, with snow-capped mountain peaks and long fjords.
As part of an agreement with the Minister of Immigration, each settler was offered the deed to 160 acres of land upon clearing it, building a house, and improving the property. The colonists arrived in Bella Coola on October 27, 1894, and spent their first winter building homes, packing supplies, and clearing land. The following year was marked by important milestones, including the first public meeting, the establishment of a post office in Bella Coola run by Thor Thorsen, the arrival of 98 new colonists, the construction of additional roads and bridges, the collection of taxes, the opening of a general store and post office in Kristiania (later called Hagensborg) by Hagen Christiansen, the first Norwegian wedding, the planting of gardens, and the building of a school.
In 1904, the settlers began to build a town on the north side of the Bella Coola River, where many businesses were established, and some were moved over from the south side. A mile-long wharf and bridges across the Bella Coola River were also built for this community. Most of the Native community at Q’umk’uts decided to move over to this area as well. However, this location was prone to severe flooding, and in the 1930s, both Nuxalk and Norwegian residents were forced to move back to the south side of the river.
Overall, the settlement of Norwegian immigrants in Bella Coola was a significant event in the valley’s history and played a crucial role in the area’s development.
The Norwegian Heritage House in Hagensborg was originally built as the home of the Svisdahl family, early pioneers of the area. Constructed in the traditional, square, timber-log style, the home was relocated to the Hwy 20 Hagensborg townsite and has been set up much as it would have appeared 100 years ago. Open: Tuesday – Friday 10-6pm