Originally our ancestors occupied more than 50 major villages spread across our vast territory. They used the intricate network of waterways to travel from well-established winter villages to numerous seasonal camps situated on salmon streams, along ancient trading routes, and on far-flung outer islands. When Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century there were several Heiltsuk villages on the various islands near the present-day location of Bella Bella.
In 1833 the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort McLoughlin, a heavily fortified fur trading post, on what is now McLoughlin Bay on Campbell Island. The Heiltsuk already had a well-established trading network on the coast, but the Hudson’s Bay Company sought to supplant indigenous people as middlemen in the the fur trade wherever possible. Still, the officers at Fort McLoughlin found the Heiltsuk would not allow themselves to be pushed aside.
When Fort McLoughlin closed in 1843 the site was abandoned by Europeans. The village of ’Qélc remained and the Heiltsuk continued to trade with the steamship-based trading system that replaced the fort. In the winter of 1862-3 a devastating smallpox epidemic took a massive toll on the Heiltsuk population across our territory. Most of the suitable building area on McLoughlin Bay was “claimed” by the Hudson’s Bay Company, creating a scarcity of land on which to build houses.
The community on Denny Island relocated to nearby Kliktsoatli Harbour, where an airstrip was built in WWII, becoming Shearwater.
But New Bella Bella (Waglisla) was revitalized by the building of an airport and BC Ferries terminal and continued to grow and prosper. Today this vital, contemporary community is simply called Bella Bella. Today the ’Qélc village site, all but disappeared, is known as Old Bella Bella or Old Town.