In New Brunswick’s northernmost city, signs of the industrial age still hang over the waterfront.
Dalhousie’s breathtaking view of the Restigouche River and Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is partially blocked by rusty metal fuel lines and mangled fences around a vast tract of land. The pipe, through which fuel was once brought to the thermal power plant, will collapse in the autumn.
The City hopes that as the view of the river changes, the perception of the community will also begin to change. After losing three major industries, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs, the municipality is cleaning up the waterfront and investing in tourism, arts and culture.
Mayor Normand Pelletier said Dalhousie had never considered opportunities beyond industry until recently.
“We have been hit hard. But we are still alive and well,” he said.
“At that time, we never thought about tourism. But since we have lost everything, people have begun to realize the beauty of our area, and these are the projects that you need.”
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Dalhousie was once a busy industrial center in northern New Brunswick, with a paper mill that employed people from all over the region for over 80 years.
It was supported by a busy port and other businesses in the city, as well as by the lumber industry.
The city also had a chemical plant and a thermal power plant, NB Power.
The paper mill and chemical plant closed in 2008, leaving hundreds of people unemployed. Then in 2012, NB Power closed the power plant permanently.
The mill and parts of the Dalhousie Power Plant were demolished, but the oil tanks and fuel piping remained on the waterfront.
Dalhousie hired consultants to draw up an ambitious development plan for the main coastal site after the oil depot was demolished.
The sketches show a vision with dozens of new housing units, a campground, a solar-powered farm and a boat.
Pelletier said while the city has been pushing for alternative land uses, it’s time to move on.
“We felt that the tanks were outdated and it was time for them to leave. We see more potential for this facility,” he said.
“Now Dalhousie is no longer an industrial city and we are looking for a better future for our future generation.”
“It’s starting to change”
Jean-Robert Aché remembers the days when William Street, Dalhousie’s main business district, was full of shops and services.
“People could buy anything from a car to a toothbrush. Everything was here,” he said.
After the plant closed, many of these stores closed and residents began to travel to nearby Campbelton. But the image of abandoned and empty shop windows is gradually changing.
Two new stores have opened in recent months: a home decor store and a store selling local art and gifts. Despite the town’s small population of 3,223, it still has a bank, two supermarkets, two pharmacies, and other services.
We were hit hard. But we are still alive and well.— Norman Pelletier, Mayor of Dalhousie
The Dalhousie population is even starting to grow after decades of decline. It added 97 new residents in the 2021 census, the first recorded increase since the 1960s.
This growth comes from new residents who are attracted by the affordable cost of living and from people who are returning home.
Hache, a council member and chairman of the culture committee, said the city is developing its current cultural facilities as well as expanding.
“When you want to try to develop tourism and culture, it takes longer. This is the only drawback,” he said. “That’s starting to change.”
The local museum, which includes the historic prison, has grown to include an art studio. The community also has a theater with nearly 500 seats that hosts concerts.
Dalhousie recently opened a new park on William Street to celebrate the various cultural groups in the area.
He commissioned a bench with two statues carved from driftwood and hopes to add a walking trail to the waterfront and a “Pioneer Park” showcasing history.
The land where the paper mill once stood remains empty, overgrown with shrubs and sprouting new trees. The site is owned by American Iron and Metal, which purchased the property to demolish the plant for scrap.
Pelletier said the city is negotiating the future of the land, which overlooks where the Restigos River flows into Chalière Bay.
“It will revitalize our city, attract people to our municipality. And this is exactly what is our goal and aspiration. Clean up our city and breathe more life into it.”