New Brunswick

Restigouche region sees population stabilize after decades of decline

New Brunswick’s long-shrinking Restigouche County has recorded the smallest population decrease in three decades, leading some local leaders to believe the northern region has reached a turning point.

Campbellton, Dalhousie add residents for first time since 1960s

The City of Campbellton saw its first substantial population increase since 1961, according to 2021 census figures. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

New Brunswick's long-shrinking Restigouche County has recorded the smallest population decrease in three decades, leading some local leaders to believe the northern region has reached a turning point.

The province's northernmost county now has a population of 30,700 people, according to 2021 census data released Wednesday. That total is 255 fewer people than the previous count – a loss of just 0.8 per cent.

That's a big change for Restigouche County, which has faced a steadily aging and declining population since the 1990s. The region had been losing an average of five per cent of its residents every five years, after reporting 39,248 people in the 1991 census.

The latest figures also show a population increase for two of the region's largest municipalities.

'A positive turn'

Dalhousie, the province's northernmost municipality, saw the highest growth with 3.1 per cent, or 97 new citizens. It's the first increase in the community, which now counts 3,223 residents, since the 1961 census.

Mayor Normand Pelletier said people have been relocating to the town to work remotely during the pandemic, spurring record-breaking home sales in the region.

"It's very touching to see the trend finally coming to a halt and finally taking a positive turn," he said.

Dalhousie saw the largest increase of any municipality in Restigouche County over the last five years, adding 97 residents. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The uptick comes just five years after the town grappled with an 11 per cent population decrease in the 2016 census, a result of the closing of two Olin Corp. chemical plants and the AbitibiBowater paper mill.

Pelletier said the pandemic has helped bring new appeal to the north shore and encouraged some to move back home.

"We've got to continue fighting with the province of New Brunswick to stop cutting services from our regions," he said. "If we want to offer a quality lifestyle in our rural areas we've got to keep what we have and improve on it."

'We're still alive'

Campbellton also saw its first significant population increase since the 1960s. It now has 7,047 residents, according to 2021 census figures.

The city added 164 citizens for an increase of 2.4 per cent.

That's a reversal of a 6.8 per cent decrease in 2016, when its population fell below 7,000.

Mayor Ian Comeau said the figures are encouraging for the municipality and northern New Brunswick.

"Some people have moved here from far west, and some people are moving back to the north shore where it's nice living, safe and there's lots of things to do," he said.

Campbellton Mayor Ian Comeau said population growth in the city sends a message that services in the north need to be protected and expanded. (Zoom)

Comeau said the stable numbers sends a message to the provincial government that services in the area need to be maintained.

"The north is not dying," he said. "We're still alive and I think it's time to stop cutting work, government positions and help us flourish." 

Other Restigouche municipalities also saw slight population increases, including Tide Head (+1.4 per cent), Kedgwick (+1.1 per cent) and Charlo (+1 per cent).

But the overall decline for the county was driven by decreases in Atholville (-7.8 per cent), Eel River Dundee (-5.6 per cent), Balmoral (-4.2 per cent) and Saint-Quentin (-2.4 per cent).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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