Dalhousie turns away from the industrial past as it tries to find a new identity

In New Brunswick’s northernmost city, signs of an industrial age still hang over the waterfront.

Dalhousie’s panoramic view of the Restigouche River and the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec is partially blocked by a rusting metal fuel pipeline and mangled fences around a large expanse of land. The pipe, which once carried fuel to a thermal power plant, will fall this fall.

As the view of the river changes, city officials hope the community’s perception will begin to change as well. After losing three major industries that cut 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 the industry until recently.

“We were hit hard. But we are still alive and well,” he said.

“We never really looked at tourism in those days. But because we lost everything, people started to realize the beauty of our area and those are the projects you want.”

WATCH / New Brunswick’s former industrial town finds new life in tourism

After industrial decline, Dalhousie tries to reinvent itself

New Brunswick’s northernmost city is focused on cleaning up its waterfront and investing in tourism, arts and culture.

The Industrial Age

Dalhousie was once a busy industrial center in northern New Brunswick, with a paper mill that employed people from across the region for over 80 years.

A busy port and other city businesses supported him and the logging industry.

The town also had a chemical plant and an NB Power thermal plant.

The Dalhousie waterfront, photographed in the 1960s, had a busy harbor and paper mill. (Restigouche Regional Museum)

Both the paper mill and the chemical operation closed in 2008, leaving hundreds of people out of work. Then in 2012, NB Power closed the power plant permanently.

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

Dalhousie hired consultants to draft an ambitious plan for the development of the main waterfront property, once the tank farm was demolished.

The Dalhousie Generating Station’s fuel oil tanks were abandoned when the plant was closed for good in 2012. The town wants the area redeveloped for recreation and housing. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

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

Pelletier said while the city has been waiting for another use of the land, it’s time to move on.

“We felt the tanks had aged and it was time for them to go. We see better potential for this property,” he said.

“Dalhousie is no longer an industrial town and we are looking for a better future for our next generation.”

“It’s starting to change”

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

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

Following the plant’s closure, many of these stores closed and residents began to drive to nearby Campbellton. But the image of abandoned and empty shop windows is gradually changing.

Jean-Robert Haché is a municipal councilor and president of the cultural committee of Dalhousie. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

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

We have been hit hard. But we are still alive and active.– Normand Pelletier, Mayor of Dalhousie

Dalhousie’s population is even beginning 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 attracted by the affordable cost of living and people returning to their homes.

Two new stores have opened in downtown Dalhousie in the past few months, including an interior decorating business and a local art and gift shop. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Haché, councilor and chairman of the cultural committee, said the city is developing its current cultural facilities and also expanding.

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

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

Revitalize the city

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

He has commissioned a bench with two statues carved from driftwood and hopes to add a waterfront recreational path and a “pioneer park” showcasing history.

Dalhousie recently opened a new waterfront park with a bench and driftwood sculptures celebrating its different cultures. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

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

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

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


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