Trivia Trek: Campbellton

For thousands of years, the estuary and floodplains of what is today called the Campbell River was used by the indigenous peoples who lived on the banks of the river. They installed elaborate fish weirs and traps, many that have been found today can be dated to over 1700 years of age. They hunted for deer, grouse and bear on the Quinsam Prairie, and harvested berries and other root vegetables. Their descendants continue to harvest traditional foods and live in this territory that is now called Campbell River.

When it comes to the different neighborhoods of today’s Campbell River, each has its own unique character. The reason that one area is so different from the others is because they all started out as completely separate communities. As the town of Campbell River grew in population it expanded to take up more space until one neighborhood spilled into the other.

MCR 6911 - Fred Nunns on his homestead in Campbellton, 1912. Frederick Nunns obtained land along the Campbell River in 1887 and is considered one of Campbell River’s first non-native settlers. The woman on the right may be his sister Annie.

The floodplains of the Campbell River began its journey to become known as ‘Campbellton’ in the late 1880s. In 1888 Fred Nunns took up a pre-emption along the river that encompassed nearly all of present day Campbellton. We know a lot about Fred and his experiences during this time because he kept a journal, a copy of which can be found in the Museum’s reference library. During these early days, Quathiaski Cove was the economic centre of the region, and Fred would row his produce and livestock to markets and butchers as far as Courtenay, and to the isolated logging camps that dotted the region. He allowed his livestock to range freely, which was not appreciated by his nearest neighbors, the Quocksister family. Fred would build fences, not to keep his livestock contained, but to keep them out of his vegetable gardens. He lost several animals to the ‘panthers’ still abundant in the area.

Aside from selling his produce and livestock, Fred earned his living by guiding visiting sportsmen hunting and fishing, as well as assisting the surveyor George Drabble. Fred was convinced that he would make his fortune on the mineral rights on his property. He was sure there were massive coal reserves to be found. And he wasn’t entirely mistaken, Quinsam Coal Mine operated nearby from 1988 to 2019.

For many years, Campbellton was a rural, farming community. The downtown area boasted a hotel with drinking parlour, a general store, and a bakery. As time marched on, the farms were divided, more businesses opened to service the growing population, and a bustling community centre provided a venue for events, classes, dances, sports and films.

MCR 7686 - The Quinsam Hotel in 1925; building was started by Tom Laffin, continued by A. Bergstrom and finally finished by Jim English.

Museum at Campbell River respectfully acknowledges the Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation, on whose traditional lands we work to preserve, interpret and share the collective human history of North Vancouver Island. The Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation is comprised of the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations. Our closest neighbors are the Coast Salish Xwemalhkwu, Klahoose and K’ómoks First Nations.

These nations have close connections to the land where Campbell River is located today.

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