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Visitors Guide

Historical Evolution of the Settlement

The evolution of settlement at Campbellton can be traced back to approximately the 1700's, although the first events and development, which have left more permanent marks on the settlement, occurred in the early part of the 1800's.

Of those numerous events, there are five, which, aside from the early presence of Indians, French and British traders, have had a more obvious impact on the economic, and social processes reflected in the settlement patterns. They are:

  1. The Land Grants of 1788 and 1812.
  2. The Miramichi Fire of 1825.
  3. Inauguration of the Intercolonial Railway in 1875-1876.
  4. The incorporation of the Town of Campbellton in 1889.
  5. The fire which, on July 11, 1910 destroyed the Town.


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The Land Grants


Before the establishment of the Province of New Brunswick in 1784, trading posts had already been constructed by the French in 1700 at Poite-des-Sauvages (apparently across the river), and there, after the Battle of the Restigouche, under a new regime, by a George Walker around 1768, at Walker's Brook, Mr. Baillie sold it to a British named John Schoolbred obtained the original grant for the land from the Government of Nova Scotia.

The desire to establish a permanent settlement in the area was not very strong at first. When New Brunswick was established, Schoolbred lost his grant to one of his employees, John Lee"....because he made no attempt to establish roads and a school."

In 1788, Lee was granted land at Old Mission Point (Atholville) where at first the settlement was more intensive than at Campbellton. Soon thereafter, he applied for a land grant to locate a sawmill at Walker's Brook. He obtained his grant in 1802, along with several other people.

The original economy of the settlement, in the 1700's was based on fishing and fur trading with the Micmac Indians. Lee's sawmill and the acquisition of Grants were a weak, but a perceptible trend towards a more stable settlement.


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The Miramichi Fire

A devastating fire destroyed the forests of the Miramichi in 1825. Lumbering and shipbuilding activities, which were supplying the British market from the Miramichi suddenly, had to turn to the Restigouche River basin for survival. The impact of this move is quite obvious on the settlement of Campbellton from 1828 to 1855; it was during that time, the first significant growth occurred.

The economic activities of that period are centered on lumber operations, shipbuilding and sawmills. By 1855, with the depletion of timber supplies in close proximity to the Restigouche River and its tributaries, a shift was made towards fish canning factories and shingle mills. By this time, Campbellton was already a large village with the bulk of its development along the East End of Water Street, perhaps until the 1850's when a school on Roseberry Street seems to indicate that there was already a trend for development westwards. The site could have been selected for its convenience to both Campbellton and Atholville residents.


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Intercolonial Railway

The advent of the Railway had a very strong impact on Campbellton. In the fifteen years that followed its arrival (1875 to 1891) the population of Campbellton tripled, rising from 600 to 1,800. The settlement started to develop westward, especially after the construction of the railway station (shortly after 1876), McLennan Engineering (1888) and the second Alexander Mill (1891) which became the Richards Mill shortly afterwards. Although those three new employers were situated on the north side of the railway tracks, at the West End of Water Street, Sugarloaf Street, which then crossed the tracks, became what appears to be the core of a second residential nucleus in the settlement.

Between 1875 and 1910, transportation certainly became a major part of the economy, along with larger sawmills and commercial fishing. During that period and certainly as a result of a larger population influx, the need for organization became stronger and in 1889, Campbellton became a Town.


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Incorporation of the Town of Campbellton (1889)

With the incorporation of the Town came the municipal infrastructures essential to the growth of an urban community: streets, public water and sewerage, streetlights and electric power were all provided by the turn of the century. From the time of incorporation to the fire of 1910, twenty years later, the population jumped again from 1800 to 3800.


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The Fire of 1910

On July 11th of that year, a devastating fire destroyed all but a few buildings in the town. Overnight, citizens were faced with the task of building a "new town" for 4000 citizens. Water Street was immediately designated a "Fire District" where all new buildings had to be constructed with fireproof exterior walls.

Following the fire, there was definitely a more accentuated shift westward of central functions in the settlement. This shift was at first most obvious with the churches. Of the six churches destroyed in the fire, five were reconstructed on new sites, in the vicinity of the intersection of Andrew and Roseberry Streets. This would appear to follow the courageous move made 15 years earlier when the Grammar School had been built at the south end of the settlement. Following the construction of the Subway, the re-location of the railway station to the south of the tracks, and what appears to have been an escalation of land costs on Water Street, businesses also started to develop around the new railway station on Roseberry Street. Ten years after the fire, it was the turn of the Fire Station, followed by municipal administration to move to Roseberry Street.

From 1911 to the present days, Campbellton has developed without any more drastic changes in settlement patterns. Urbanization continued, gradually filling the most suitable land between the Bay and the range of hills situated to the south of the community.

Three important changes in municipal boundaries occurred in the last decades, the first change was in 1958, at the time the Town became a City and when lands to the west and south were annexed. The second was in 1959-1960 when the Van Horne Bridge was constructed between Pointe à la Croix, QC and Campbellton NB. The official opening of this interprovincial bridge was in 1961. It was possible to engage in a valuable exchange between the two provinces. The third change was in 1979 when the Richardsville area became part of the City.


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The Phantom Ship

The Phantom Ship, known as "The burning ship of the Bay of Chaleur" is a definite part of Campbellton's history.

The many people who claim to have seen this phenomenon believe in it completely, whereas, others have scoffed at the idea, claiming that it is merely heat waves or hallucinations.

The strange part of the story is that the ship appears at no special time and has been seen at different parts of the bay as far down as Green Point on the NB side this side and even further on the Quebec coast.

The stories of its appearance follows a general pattern of a burning sailing vessel, sometimes a vessel with all sails set, scudding along the water and sometimes a vessel burning to the water's surface or just simply fading out of sight.

There is yet to be known a satisfactory explanation for this strange phenomenon. Considering that it does not occur at regular intervals it would be impossible for a scientific research group to investigate the matter and arrive at a solution. For this reason, the Phantom Ship of the Bay of Chaleur will perhaps always remain a mystery.

History of Campbellton, pp.21, published by Tribune


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76 Water Street, PO Box 100, Campbellton, New Brunswick E3N 3G1
Telephone: 506-789-2700, Tourism: 506-789-2708