There was an old passenger ferry anchored at the wharf in Campbellton. It had seen better days, having shuttled passengers from more luxurious cruise ships to the shallow ports of Barbados. It was living out its years like some used-up junkie, peddling drinks as a floating bar for the summer. The captain told my uncle Campbellton was “l’antichambre de la mort,” the place where people wait to die. This was the 1980s, but his words still ring true.
Even the lowly booze boats no longer frequent the wharf. Warehouses, mills, and plants stand vacant. In neighbouring Dalhousie, streetlights are turned off to save money. “For Sale” signs abound as permanent yard decorations. Restaurants like Quiznos and Burger King have come and gone. Even KFC, which lasted years, recently packed its bags.
June marks the yearly exodus of high school graduates. They will come back as tourists, but only a few will call it home again. Meanwhile, construction of nursing homes and low-income housing is the booming industry.
The captain couldn’t have described it better. Campbellton has become l’antichambre de la mort.
It was a booming city. The malls were packed, so were the bars, and the amount of festivals and events in Miramichi made it an exciting place.
The mill closed and everything changed.
Now, the mall has a few stores remaining but none of them ever have many customers. The remainder is cluttered with “For Lease” signs. The most famous bar, The Opera House, burned down three years ago. The rest of the bars never make enough door cover to pay a band for a night of music.
The hockey games that used to draw over 1,000 people every Saturday night only pull a few 100 now. When I graduated high school, we had 200 graduates, now they are barely in the triple digits.
Everyone has at least three friends or relatives who have gone West for work. Former construction foremans now push shopping carts at Walmart for a paycheck. The annual pond hockey tournament, rock and roll festival, and Irish festival don’t seem to draw nearly they crowd it used to.
When the mill closed, it took the work, and population with it.
My hometown is sinking. The gaping hole beside OK Tire took four months to be filled. It served as a reminder of the old gold mine underneath the town. That is, in case the audible blasts at 4 p.m. every day failed to refresh our memories.
Schumacher used to be a vibrant community, with immigrants from around the world. It was the biggest community of Croatians outside of the country itself. People came to work in the mine, and most never left. My Croatian grandfather owned one of the busiest hotel and boarding houses – The Grandview Hotel. It’s still there, but its cracked vinyl seat covers have been there just as long. Like the rest of the businesses in town, the Grandview is sad, grey, and never busy.
Schumacher isn’t even its own municipality anymore. It was amalgamated into Timmins and surrounding area in the 1970s. Then the highway was rerouted – it now bypasses the town. Our taxes go to Timmins, our labour goes to Timmins, and our pride somehow left us behind, too.
The monument of Mr. Schumacher – the town’s philanthropic grandfather, long dead – is missing an arm. Many of the houses downtown are missing windows. Most everyone left misses the old days.
Florence, Cape Breton
When I was 12-years-old, my family moved from Toronto to a small town (it might even be considered a village) in Cape Breton. When I was a really small kid, we would come here for the summer and stay with my grandmother. When I heard we were moving there I had associated it with banana loaf, swimming in the ocean, and Nanny smooches.
The U-Haul pulled into our driveway and revealed my mother’s inheritance from her grandfather. The house was faded yellow and looked like a fire hazard, but so did every other house on the street.
Across the road, there was a recreation centre and tennis court, but from the charred plywood there now it would appear it had burned down. A fenced-in slab of concrete covered with busted bottles is all that remains
After unpacking, I walked up to the corner store. I remembered it being a cute store that sold penny candies wrapped up in little brown paper bags, tied with a ribbon and everything.
Now I was encountered by a soiled blue building with boarded-up windows, massive spray-painted penises, and Wu-Tang Clan lyrics. A gaggle of kids my own age were slumped all over the stairs, smoking darts. When I denied a drag, a boy named Mitchell hocked a loogie right in my goddamn face.
I walked around to calm down some and noticed how grubby this place really was. Every ditch was littered with Tim Hortons cups, the woods which held trails to the beach had all been strip-mined in search of coal, and the beach itself was covered in used condoms and a stray needle here and there.
Everything looked deprived of colour; it was like the town from my childhood memories had died.
Years later, nothing much has changed. The two town churches are for sale, and the local graffiti artists still have a phallic fetish. Young children in ripped up, over-sized clothing still hang out on the corner store steps where they offer passersby vulgar comments, ecstasy, weed, or cigarettes.