FORT KENT, Maine — Think of it as the cultural equivalent of the Olympic Games.
The 2014 World Acadian Congress needs a place to stage its events, and partners on both sides of the Maine-New Brunswick border are working together on an application for the area to be designated as the official congress site. The gathering has the potential to attract up to 50,000 people.
Northern Maine’s participation as a potential co-host will be the topic of a public meeting sponsored by the Maine Acadian Heritage Council set to take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Nadeau Hall .
“This is a huge, huge deal,” Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives-Archives Acadiennes at UMFK, said. “We are talking about 4 million Acadians worldwide.”
While there is little chance all 4 million would attend a congress in northern Maine, Pelletier said, the congress held in Louisiana in 1999 drew around 300,000 people.
The 2009 congress is slated for next summer on the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick. The 2004 congress was held in Nova Scotia.
Lasting a month, each congress includes up to 300 activities, conferences, cultural events, economic discussions and even sporting venues.
For the 2014 application, the Maine Acadian Heritage Council is teaming up with the Forum of Mayors of Northwestern New Brunswick and the Committee for the Promotion of Acadia of the Lands and Forests.
The groups represent three counties and 14 municipalities in New Brunswick and the upper Saint John Valley in Maine from Allagash to Van Buren.
“There is a very good chance we will be selected,” Hugues Chiasson, president of Acadia of the Lands and Forests, said. “But we will need to have a very strong application.”
Competing for the site location are venues in Quebec and Louisiana.
Completing the application is a full-time job, Chiasson, said.
“It will involve $40,000 to $50,000,” he said. That money is anticipated to come partially from member communities who are being asked to contribute $1 per person.
“For example, there are 16,000 people in Edmundston, so they are contributing $16,000,” Chiasson said.
The application is due in March, with the final decision from the Societe National de l’Acadie to be announced next August.
“Five years is not too early to start talking about preparations,” Pelletier said. “We will need to schedule conferences, speakers and other activities.”
Activities are designed, Pelletier said, to appeal to everyone from the armchair history buff to the seasoned academic and everyone in between.
“Picture the annual Acadian Festival in Madawaska,” Pelletier said. “Now multiply that by 100.”
Each year, a regional family is honored as part of the local festival. Pelletier said the 2009 World Acadian Congress has 62 family reunions listed.
“The Acadian congress is not just about family reunions or parties,” Pelletier said. “But they are a big part of it.”
For those four weeks in August, Acadians from all walks of life from around the globe gather to discuss what it means to be an Acadian historically, culturally, geographically, linguistically and socially.
“This is how we maintain our identity,” Pelletier said.
If successful in its application, the northern Maine-western New Brunswick organizing group would be taking full advantage of the two universities located within its area, with UMFK and a branch campus of the University of Moncton in Edmundston, New Brunswick.
“For us it’s really a great opportunity for visibility,” Pelletier said. “So many people don’t know [Acadians] exist up here.”
“This would be very nice for us,” he said. “Often when you speak of Acadians, people think only of Louisiana.”
Economically, it has been projected the congress could pump up to $33.6 million into the region.
The joint application covering venues in two countries is the first such international attempt, Pelletier said.
“Where else could you do something like this?” she said.
“The international flavor of this area makes it a perfect location,” Chiasson said.
As the group prepares the application, Pelletier said, it is important to prove to the selection committee that the area is up to the challenges of bringing international Acadia to the region.
“We want to get as many people as possible at the meeting on January 8,” Pelletier said. “We are looking for support and ideas.”