A once-neglected part of Campbell River is finding its voice and undergoing a renaissance.

Business leaders in historic Campbellton are pressuring city officials, the Highways Ministry and just about anyone who will listen that the birthplace of the municipality is entitled to the same urban renewal other parts of the city have received.

“This is where Campbell River grew up,” said Brian Shaw, a Campbellton business person and force behind the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association (CNA). “I have always believed in this part of the community. I want it to grow. I want it to be beautiful.” Shaw made those comments at the first Campbellton Day held on August 1. 

But community leaders are not waiting for civic officials to take action, they’re getting on with the job themselves.

“The potential in Campbellton is so tremendous and we will try to realize that (potential),” said Morgan Ostler, former city councillor and longtime resident of Campbell River and now a resident of Campbellton. Ostler said she has come to admire the attitude she has found in Campbellton.

“I like the grittiness and the spirit of what there is in Campbellton,”

“I like the grittiness and the spirit of what there is in Campbellton,” Ostler said during her Campbellton Day speech. Ostler recognized the farsightedness of Brian Shaw in creating the CNA to act as a voice for the community. “(He realized) we need a structure, we need a vision,” Ostler said.

He also realized hard, hands-on work was needed and a dedicated group of Campbellton supporters rolled up their sleeves and weeded overgrown sidewalks, cleaned out cracks in the sidewalks and built and painted planters to improve the look of the area. Campbellton’s recent history has been one of neglect and growing crime. The district is a mix of single family residents, some apartments and a lot of commercial and light industrial businesses.

A tipping point was reached few years ago when business people had had enough of the drug dealing and prostitution on the streets of Campbellton and banded together to hold a community meeting. They invited police and city councillors and officials. And they wanted action.

Out of that meeting came a resolution amongst the residents and businesses to do something. Civic officials may not have understood the spirit of the place, said Ostler, who was a city councillor at the time. “We really didn’t understand the spirit of Campbellton’s people that they wanted to do things on their own,” Ostler said.

They weren’t looking for a hand out, she said.

The meeting stuck with Ostler and when she later retired from council and moved to Campbellton, she probably wasn’t surprised when a group decided, “we’ll start replanting the sidewalks.” Then they went on to remove graffiti from hydro boxes.

“That was our first big effort,” Ostler said. “From that early start, it has been really heartwarming to get to the particular stage where we have a community garden.”

One thing Campbellton residents and businesspersons are not short on is ideas and many proposals have been put forward to enhance the district. On the drawing board is a signature display at the entrance to Campbellton coming from the south on the Inland Island Highway that will serve as a “Welcome to Campbell River” sign.

There is also a proposal to install a visitor information centre in Campbellton. Both of these projects focus on Campbellton’s position as an entrance to Campbell River. In order to get to downtown from the north you have have to cross the Highway 19 bridge and turn left. Coming from the south you roll down the Highway 19 hill and turn right in two places to access the centre of the city. Highway 28 rolls in from the west and also joins Highway 19A at the same intersection.

In fact, that intersection has been given greater importance because it is a block away from where Google locates Campbell River on its GPS coordinates. Google Campbell River and the pin is placed in Campbellton where Highway 19 and Highway 19A converge.

As the northern entrance to the city, Campbellton supporters are urging the city to support upgrades to the area. Ostler has the perspective of having seen the city tackle the southern entrance to the city in Willow Point. 

“It was not an attractive entrance to the community at all,” Ostler said. “They put together a concept where today, to drive through Willow Point is an amazing experience. “What I am hoping from the success of Willow Point is now the city will take on the process of upgrading Campbellton.”

One of the projects that has gained momentum is a proposal to install a floatplane on Highway 19 coming down the hill into Campbellton from the south. This will be the centre piece of a Welcome to Campbell River sign. The idea is to acquire a full de Havilland Beaver and set it on a stand so that it looks like it’s taking off from a pond that already exists in that spot between the north and south lanes of the highway.

One of the biggest challenges to the project was finding an aircraft that somebody was willing to part with. The workhorse of the coastal airways is in high demand. There were only 300 of them originally made but they are continually rebuilt and kept flying because they are so dependable.

“All the ones people have, they want to keep,” said Johnathon Calderwood, a member of the CNA executive.

But one was acquired thanks to the generosity of Bill Alder, owner of Campbell River’s Sealand Aviation. Sealand is involved in the maintenance and repair of aircraft as well as designing, certifying and manufacturing aircraft modifications. Alder is donating an air frame.

Now the job is to get Ministry of Transportation support for the project and to raise $150,000 to build the showpiece. The floatplane was considered a good symbol for the business and resource industry service character of Campbellton. The display will say “Welcome to Campbell River” and will be similar to a signature and very visible welcome sign that graces the entrances to Nanaimo. So, the game is on and the spirit of Campbellton is rolling up its sleeves and going to work as the community has focused on this project.

“We’ve finally reached the point where we can ask for this and today, we are working for this,” Calderwood said. One of Campbellton’s greatest assets is its proximity to the river but over the years, access to the river has been cut off. One of the goals of the community is to regain that access. “There’s no public access,” Shaw said, “no place to sit down and contemplate.”

Ostler said that many visitors and residents don’t even realize the community is strung out along the river. Shaw said the community is working towards regaining access to the river. Proposals have been put forward to create parkland and even a fishing wharf on the river.

It’s an effort that’s important to not only Campbellton but the City of Campbell River as a whole. after all, it is the city’s namesake.

“It is a big part of our community. It is a huge part of our community,” Shaw said. Improving access to the river will benefit tourists but Shaw said that’s not the only reason for doing it. “It’s for ourselves,” he said, to enhance the community for those who live here. And with the spirit of Campbellton now engaged, you can bet that the transformation will happen. The renaissance has begun.