Campbellton: A community where no one gives up
The community has battled fires and an ever-changing economy, but it always finds away to thrive
Located on the banks of the salmon-rich Restigouche River in northern New Brunswick, on the border with Quebec, lies the charming town of Campbellton. Its unhurried, neighbourly way of life belies the turbulent circumstances under which it was first settled by Europeans.
The first inhabitants were Mi'kmaq. In 1757, the area became home to its first influx of Europeans, as a group of dispossessed Acadians who had been ordered out of Nova Scotia by the British came to live there. For one very long, hard winter, the natives helped the unfortunate Acadians survive. In the spring of 1758, the Acadians left for the Quebec side of the Restigouche and settled down river.
A few years later, in 1760, Campbellton was the site of the bitter ending to a dark chapter in North American history. The "Battle of the Restigouche" was the last naval battle of the Seven Years War for the conquest of New France, fought between France and England. When the French ship, Le Machault sank in the river's shallow banks, France had no other choice than to surrender.
In the years following 1775, Campbellton saw the first wave of Scottish settlement in the area. The industries of salmon fishing, shipbuilding and trapping thrived.
Fire shapes the town
Three significant fires would shape the fate of Campbellton in the 1800's and early 1900's:
- On October 7th, 1825 "the Miramishi Fire," ripped through much of northern New Brunswick, almost to Bathurst. While the Campbellton area was not hit by this fire, it was affected. Logging remained the primary industry in Campbellton until the 1920s.
- The second fire occurred in 1861 when a blaze decimated the fledgling maritime community. Almost every one of the nearly 100 buildings in Campbellton were demolished by fire.
- The third fire, sometimes called "the great fire of Campbellton," took place on July 11th, 1910. It started when a spark from a mill burner ignited a pile of shingles. The burning shingles were blown all over town by a strong wind, creating several fires that burned for at least half a day. Nearly everything was destroyed, but remarkably, no one was hurt or seriously injured. The winter was difficult as many of the townspeople were forced to battle the elements in cold, damp tents. The resilience and determination of the people was on display that spring when they re-built the many houses and businesses that were destroyed in the blaze.
When the Intercolonial Railway (ICR) arrived in the 1870s, Campbellton developed a second industrial base and effectively became the "gateway to the maritimes". When the first passenger train pulled into the local depot on July 5th, 1876, the burgeoning town began to forge an exciting new identity.
The community thrived in the 15 years following the arrival of the ICR, and the population soon tripled, from 600 to 1800, leading to Campbellton being incorporated as a town in 1889. (The town's namesake is a Scotsman, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Archibald Campbell, the first governor of the province. He served from 1831 - 1837.)
The train brought affluence
Campbellton was bidding to become the leading commercial centre on the North Shore. By 1910 it had three banks, five churches, two schools and a hospital. Activity at the train station steadily increased, and by the 1920s, the town saw as many as 16 to 18 trains per day.
In 1928, lumbering gave way to paper as the dominant industry in the area, as a pulp mill was built at nearby Atholville.
Salmon fishing on the renowned Restigouche River has long been the area's favourite summer pastime; but, in the winter, hockey was king. Local fans couldn't get enough of their beloved Tigers, the Senior 'A' hockey club that played in the North Shore Hockey League. When the arena on Dufferin St. was condemned and torn down in 1949, the town built a beautiful new arena called Memorial Gardens. The Montreal Canadians came to Campbellton and scrimmaged to open this facility in January 1951.
The population of Campbellton peaked to over 12,000 by the late 1950's, and it was incorporated as a city in 1958.
From 1958 - 61, the J.C. Van Horne Bridge was constructed across the Restigouche River. This bridge was designed to make travel between Quebec and Northern New Brunswick easier, as it connects Campbellton with a town called Pointe a la Croix, QC. The first crossing was made on October 15th, 1961. One of the city's most beloved traditions began during the country's Centennial celebrations of 1967 when Campbellton hosted its inaugural Salmon Festival, a week-long event featuring parades, a pageant, fireworks, and delicious salmon suppers.
The Tigers win two national championships
Campbellton was hit hard in the mid 1970s when the ICR was reorganized. Nearly 1,200 jobs were lost, and many families left the area in search of new employment. On a more positive note, the people of Campbellton were given cause to celebrate twice during the decade, when their Tigers won two national championships - the first in 1972, and the second in 1977.
Once again a fire changed the face of the town. This time a blaze at the end of the decade destroyed the beloved Memorial Gardens, just a year after it was the site of a joyous third national title being captured by the Tigers in 1988.
Memorial Gardens was replaced with Memorial Civic Centre in 1990, which was constructed at the site of the infamous battle of 1760, on the shores of the Restigouche River. This community centre hosted some competitions for the 2003 Canada Winter Games, which Campbellton co-hosted with Bathurst, NB.
Today, Campbellton is the smallest of eight officially incorporated cities in New Brunswick, with a population of just under 8,000.