FORT KENT, Maine — It’s time for 61 families to roll up their collective sleeves and get to work on the biggest series of reunions ever to hit the St. John Valley region.
This week the organizers of the 2014 World Acadian Congress announced the first round of successful applicants for three weeks of family reunions in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec.
“Family gatherings are at the heart of any World Acadian Congress and Acadian and non-Acadian families have responded enthusiastically,” Emilien Nadeau, World Acadian Congress president, said during a press conference in Edmundston, New Brunswick on Thursday, adding the interest expressed by reunion families exceeded his own expectations.
The World Acadian Congress is held every five years, drawing Acadians from around the world for three weeks of reunions and cultural, historical, musical, theatrical, scholarly and athletic events.
A big part of those celebrations is the anticipated 120 family reunions taking place during the congress set for Aug. 8-14 throughout the St. John Valley, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec, known collectively as Acadia of the Lands and Forests.
“The family reunion component is the essential component in terms of [the congress’s] economic development,” said Jason Parent, World Acadian Congress Maine international president and international family reunion task force chairman. “They are the hooks that bring in the 50,000 visitors to the host region.”
Those visitors, Parent said, are expected to travel to the host site from more than 40 countries for an anticipated economic impact of more than $55 million.
To put it into perspective, Parent said that during the most recent World Acadian Congress held in New Brunswick, there were 89 family reunions.
“Two of those had 3,000 participants and at least one had 2,500,” he said.
On the local level Parent noted the annual single family reunion held in conjunction with Madawaska’s Acadian Festival routinely brings in anywhere from 700 to 1,400 visitors.
In addition to announcing the first round of reunion families, the congress committee also named the towns or regions hosting each family.
“The location for each reunion was really up to the applicants,” Parent said. “In most cases the application pinpointed the location.”
In other cases family reunion organizers specified a larger region as in the case of the Gagnons who requested their reunion be in Maine.
“They will now formulate which community to hold that reunion,” Parent said.
With the first 61 families named and each now eligible for $500 in reunion planning seed money, Parent said the door is now open for a second round of applications.
“We want families of Acadian descent living in or out of the region or any family living in the region,” he said. “Families like the Haffords or O’Learys may not be Acadian, but they are certainly in our geographic region [in Allagash] and we would love to see them apply.”
Congress organizers launched a second call for applications for families, family associations, municipalities or any other group interested in hosting family reunions during the World Acadian Congress.
That second round will end in June 2012 and be followed by a third from August to December 2012. A fourth round may take place in 2013 as needed.
Between now and the 2014 World Acadian Congress organizers plan to hold quarterly meetings with family reunion organizers to discuss logistics and challenges of hosting large numbers of participants.
The reunions and other congress events promise to bring a great deal of attention to the region, Parent said, with television crews from French-speaking Canada already indicating interest in national broadcast coverage.
“You don’t want to not be a part of this,” he said.
Applications for parties interested in hosting a family reunion in Acadia of the Lands and Forests in 2014 are available online at the website for the fifth World Acadian Congress at http://cma2014.org.