PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A major multicultural event expected to bring tourists and tourism dollars to Aroostook County in 2014 now has a leader at the helm.
Jean-Paul Savoie, international president of the organizing committee of the fifth World Acadian Congress, announced late last week that Leo-Paul Charest will serve as executive director of the 2014 event.
The World Acadian Congress is held every five years in different regions populated by Acadians. The 2014 gathering will be staged Aug. 8-24 in northern Maine, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec. This will be the first time in the event’s history that it will span two countries.
In winning the 2014 bid, the Maine-New Brunswick-Quebec region, operating under the unified title “Acadia of the Lands and Forests,” beat out competing applications from Quebec City and Louisiana.
“We are very fortunate to be able to hire a person of this caliber,” said Savoie. “Mr. Charest has numerous years of experience in the fields of education and international relations. He also has a good knowledge of governments and their administrations. He is a seasoned manager who will energize our group and guide the team that will deliver a memorable and magnificent event.”
In the past, the World Acadian Congress has attracted more than 50,000 visitors for two weeks to host regions including Louisiana and the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick.
The congress typically features more than 300 events, including family reunions, regional celebrations, and sporting and cultural events. Hotels, restaurants, stores and other facilities typically see a significant influx of revenue. The economic spin-off for recent congresses has ranged from $30 million to $50 million in the host region.
Charest already has been heavily involved in planning the 2014 event, according to organizers. In 2009, he helped with the region’s application preparations by helping to craft the story of the Acadians.
The Quebec resident has a background in education, having taught in the Edmundston region schools before being recruited by the New Brunswick Department of Education as science consultant and deputy director of curriculum development. He was also director of Ecole Sainte-Anne, the only French school in Fredericton, New Brunswick, at the time.
From 2001 until his retirement in 2008, Charest was director of Official Languages and la Francophonie with the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs in New Brunswick. He directed a multitude of projects in relation to cooperation agreements with many countries in la Francophonie.
Organizers also said that Charest has successfully planned other large-scale events, including New Brunswick’s participation in the Francophone summits in Beirut, Ouagadougou and Bucharest; in the World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia; in the Francophonie Villages in Burkina Faso and in Romania; in many editions of le Festival Interceltique de Lorient, in France; in the Semaine Acadienne de Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in 2008; in the International Festival of La Fayette in 2008; in Noel en Acadie at the Futuroscope in 2007; and in many promotional activities across Canada.
Next May, Charest will coordinate New Brunswick’s participation in la Foirexpo de Poitiers in Vienne, France.
Jason Parent, president of the Maine delegation to the international organizing committee of the 2014 World Acadian Congress, said Charest was selected from more than 30 applicants from Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec and beyond.
“He was instrumental in our collective efforts to secure this event,” he said. “His work helping us to craft the story of the Acadians in northern Maine was critical to the bid effort. It is widely recognized that Maine’s participation in this effort was among the key factors that cinched the bid for the fifth World Acadian Congress.”
Charest resides in Saint-Jean-de-la-Lande, New Brunswick, a small municipality bordering Quebec. He is deputy mayor of the municipality.
One of the three major 2014 congress events, the Acadian National Feast Day, will be held on Aug. 15, 2014, in Maine. The official opening fete will be held in northwestern New Brunswick, with the closing ceremony in Quebec.
It is anticipated that Madawaska’s Acadian Festival will move from its traditional late June date to August in 2014 to coincide with the congress. Similarly, events including the Ployes Festival in Fort Kent, the Van Buren Summerfest, and homecoming and festival events in other St. John Valley communities will coincide with the August congress.
Thirty jobs directly related to the WAC are expected to be created, and an additional 160 jobs will be created indirectly, according to organizers.