I wanted to like Campbellton – I really did. After all, it’s the home of the world’s largest salmon sculpture (Restigouche Sammy, a.k.a. Sammy the Salmon!) and the place is so darn CLEAN. How can a town be as clean as Campbellton? No litter, no graffiti, not even any tagging. I tried to figure that out as I trudged up the hill with my cart to Sobeys, battling a freakishly cold north wind that had blown in overnight and stayed on to chill my first full day in town. Then it hit me: I was the only pedestrian on the sidewalk. It seemed that everyone in Campbellton got around by car (I guess because there are no buses). Was this the reason for the lack of litter and graffiti – no sidewalk traffic? If so, is there a correlation between the number of pedestrians and the amount of litter generated, and is there a mathematical equation to calculate this? Does not having bus stops (where people can hang around smoking and leaving butts and empty Tim’s cups behind) lead to less litter? Are the people who litter also the same people who do the graffiti and tagging? Does anyone other than me actually care?
As I said, I really wanted to like Campbellton mainly because of Sammy and also because I’m stuck here for three days and three nights while I wait for the next train to pass through heading west. There used to be a train every day, and then every day of the week except one, and now there are only three trains a week. I wanted to like Campbellton for at least three days, but I unfortunately didn’t make it past the first one.
I came here to see Sammy, but I also came to eat some salmon. Real salmon. Fresh salmon. Wild-caught North Atlantic salmon. Really fresh wild-caught North Atlantic salmon with veins of fat running through the flesh (that’s where most of the flavour comes from – the fat – and wild-caught North Atlantic salmon are the fattest in the world [thanks to the frigid North Atlantic waters] and therefore the tastiest). Certainly, there are plenty of fat and tasty salmon swimming free and wild in the cool rushing waters of the beautiful Restigouche River just a stone’s throw away from where I was staying, but I couldn’t nab me one of those salmon for love or money because it’s illegal to fish them in the river. It’s illegal to fish for wild North Atlantic salmon anywhere now, unless you’re aboriginal. So, in a town that was built on salmon and stakes its reputation on salmon, you can’t actually buy any salmon, just the farmed variety (which is not really salmon). No wonder Sammy’s always jumping out of his pool as carefree as can be – he knows he’ll never be caught!
Another reason I give Campbellton a reluctant thumbs down is that there is no public transportation here, other than for the train and regional bus. Surely someone at the municipality could have arranged at least one daytime bus that could drive up and down the main street and wind through some of the side streets. Just one bus. It could even be a van cab. How on Earth can anyone get around here if they don’t (or, like me, can’t) drive? Sure, you can walk or bike in the summertime, but the winters here are brutal and the snow neck deep. Given the dearth of transportation options, the town has mandated that local cabs charge a flat fee of $6:50 anywhere within the town and a flat fee of $6.75 if you want to go, say, to the Walmart or Superstore (a bit outside of town). This is how they deal with the lack of buses, but it means that it costs you around 15 bucks just to go grocery shopping if you don’t have a car. That, in my eyes, is neither affordable nor a solution.
Yet another reason why Campbellton won’t make my return list is the sidewalks. They have a strange configuration of two or three concrete slabs book-ended by a strip of red bricks running between the buildings and the curb. I guess the intent was to make the sidewalks look more attractive, but the reality is that the bricks have sunk below the grade of the concrete slabs, tripping people up and catching my grocery cart wheels every few steps. I can imagine they also play havoc with sidewalk plows in the winter. Someone had what they thought was a good idea, but they didn’t consider all factors.
Then there’s the traveller’s hostel. The location is amazing (on the boardwalk next to the river), the price is right ($21 a night with a Hostelling International membership), and it’s certainly as clean as the rest of the town, but the municipality owns it so the municipality sets the policies, one of which is that long-term locals can stay there as well as people (and their very young children) in domestic violence crisis situations. I had written a diatribe about why travellers, the homeless and people in crisis don’t mix, but I deleted it. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t go back there and wouldn’t recommend that anyone go there unless they’re willing to accept that standard hostel policies (e.g., no locals and no children under 12) don’t apply.
The good things about Campbellton? Well, it’s clean. The locals are friendly and helpful. The river is beautiful, as are the hills beyond.
These are all good things. But they’re not enough to make me want to come back.
Now, Sammy – SAMMY would make me want to come back!