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Dalhousie turning from industrial past as it tries to find a new identity

In New Brunswick’s northernmost town, signs of an industrial era still loom over the waterfront.

Dalhousie’s sweeping view of the Restigouche River and Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula is partially blocked by a rusting metal fuel pipeline and mangled fences around a vast tract of land. The pipe, which once carried fuel to a thermal generating station, is coming down this fall.

As the view over the river changes, town officials hope perception of the community will also begin to shift. After losing three major industries which shed hundreds of jobs, the municipality is cleaning up the waterfront and investing in tourism, arts and culture.

Mayor Normand Pelletier said Dalhousie never considered opportunities beyond industry until recently. 

“We’ve been hit hard. But we’re still alive and kicking,” he said.

“We never really looked at tourism at that time. But because we’ve lost everything, people started to realize the beauty of our area and these are the projects you want.”

WATCH / Former N.B. mill town finding new life in tourism

After industrial decline, Dalhousie is trying to reinvent itself

New Brunswick’s northernmost town is focusing on cleaning on its waterfront and investing in tourism, arts and culture.

Industrial era

Dalhousie was once a busy centre of industry in northern New Brunswick, with a paper mill that employed people across the region for more than 80 years. 

A busy port and other businesses in town supported it, along with the forestry industry. 

The town also had a chemical plant and an N.B. Power thermal generating station.

Dalhousie’s waterfront, pictured in the 1960s, had a busy port and paper mill. (Restigouche Regional Museum)

The paper mill and chemical operation both closed in 2008, leaving hundreds of people without work. Then in 2012, N.B. Power closed the power plant was permanently.

The mill and parts of the Dalhousie Generating Station were demolished, but oil tanks and the fuel pipeline were left behind on the waterfront.

Dalhousie hired consultants to draft an ambitious plan for developing the prime waterfront property, once the tank farm is demolished.

The oil tanks at the Dalhousie generating station were left behind when the power plant permanently closed in 2012. The town wants the area to be redeveloped for recreation and housing. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The sketches show a vision with dozens of new housing units, a campground, solar panel farm and a boat launch.

Pelletier said while the town had been holding out for an alternative use for the land, it’s time to move on.

“We felt the tanks were up in age and it was time for them to go. We see a better potential for that property,” he said.

“Dalhousie now is no longer an industrial-based town and we’re looking for a better future for our future generation.”

‘It’s starting to change’

Jean-Robert Haché remembers a time when William Street, Dalhousie’s main business area, was lined with stores and services.

“People could shop for anything from a car to a toothbrush. They had everything here,” he said.

In wake of the mill closure, many of those stores shuttered and residents began driving to nearby Campbellton. But the image of abandoned and empty storefronts is gradually changing.

Jean-Robert Haché is a town councillor and chair of Dalhousie’s cultural committee. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Two new stores have opened in recent months, a home decor business and a shop selling local art and gifts. Despite the town’s small population of 3,223 people, it still offers a bank, two supermarkets, two pharmacies and other services. 

We’ve been hit hard. But we’re still alive and kicking.– Normand Pelletier, Mayor of Dalhousie

Dalhousie’s 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. 

That growth is coming from new residents attracted to the affordable cost of living, and from people who are moving back home.

Two new stores have opened in downtown Dalhousie in recent months, including a home decor business and a shop selling local art and gifts. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Haché, a councillor and chair of the cultural committee, said the town is developing its current cultural facilities and also expanding. 

“When you want to try and develop tourism and culture it takes more time. That’s the only drawback,” he said. “It’s starting to change.”

The local museum, which includes a historic jail, has grown and now includes an art studio. The community also has a nearly 500-seat theatre which hosts concerts.

Revitalizing the town

Dalhousie recently opened a new park on William Street to celebrate the different cultural groups in the area. 

It commissioned a bench with two statues carved out of driftwood, and hopes to add a recreational trail to the waterfront and a “Pioneer’s Park” showcasing the history.

Dalhousie recently opened a new waterfront park featuring a bench and driftwood carvings celebrating its different cultures. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The land where the paper mill once stood remains vacant, overgrown with brush and new trees sprouting up. American Iron and Metal, which purchased the property to demolish the plant for the scrap metal, owns the parcel..

Pelletier said the town is in talks about the future of that land, which overlooks the point where the Restigouche River meets the Chaleur Bay.

“It’s going to revitalize our town, attract people to our municipality. And that’s exactly what our goal and ambition is. To clean up our town and give it more life.”

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