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River John sees new features as sign of things looking up

‘River John strong’ is alive and well this summer in the small rural village. So much so, people travel home for the River John Festival Days and cottagers leave their seaside retreats for activities in town.  Here, from the left: Ava and Alexa Preston of Miramichi, N.B., ice cupcakes with Reilly Ellis of Toronto and his cousin Erika Ellis of Uxbridge, Ont.
‘River John strong’ is alive and well this summer in the small rural village. So much so, people travel home for the River John Festival Days and cottagers leave their seaside retreats for activities in town. Here, from the left: Ava and Alexa Preston of Miramichi, N.B., ice cupcakes with Reilly Ellis of Toronto and his cousin Erika Ellis of Uxbridge, Ont.

RIVER JOHN - Two years ago, River John was fighting to keep its school alive and its community together. 

Backpacks lined the bridge in protest and news stories focused on what the rural coastal community was losing.

But today, Linda Thompson-Reid says there is a change in the tide for the better.  

For Thompson-Reid, a new deck and dock unveiled Sunday during the start of River John Festival Days proves the community is focusing on the good rather than fearing for what it is losing.

“It was a disaster when the school closed and we were trying to clean out that building and we had a huge sale,” she said. “It was a struggle for me. I spent 35 years teaching there, but the new dock and deck is the beginning of something new and it is a step ahead. The festival days also give us a good shot in the arm.”

Thompson said the new deck and dock system, located in the centre of the community on its riverfront, is close to her heart because her father started planning it 50 years ago.  
He got close to seeing his dream become a reality, but he passed unexpectedly 20 years ago, which again delayed the project, she said.

Thompson said the River John Action Society, formed by a community coming together to save its school, raised more than $30,000 to build the deck and docks. Volunteers came together to build the project and those who couldn’t build contributed by providing lunches and refreshments for the workers.

“This is huge for River John,” she said. “There is much volunteer work here.”

Thompson-Reid said people are also rallying around the River John Festival Days. While people like the traditional events such as the dances, fireworks, parade and breakfasts on the verandah, she said new activities such as the cardboard boat races have been added this year.

“For us, the biggest part of it all is to get people involved,” she said. “I believe it is important to have young people involved and by young I mean under 30. It is great to have young people stepping up to the plate and they have a group of connections they can bring in and work at different events.”

Festival Days is promoting the presence of new business owner Justin Yap and his Route 6 food truck. Thompson-Reid said he is related to the people who run the local Esso garage in River John and is taking his truck to a regular site in both River John and Tatamagouche.

All of this is also attracting the attention of people who live outside of River John and are now coming into the village to share in the positive vibes it is giving off.

“We get a lot of cottage folks and relatives and friends of people here who make a huge effort to come this week,” she said. “I will go to something and look around and say, ‘I don’t know everyone here.’”

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