ASHLAND, Maine — Fifty-six years ago, area businessmen and chamber of commerce representatives caravanned through the Maine woods to Quebec City to find a viable route west, especially for the woods and lumber industry. The trip was rough, and some of the travelers didn’t make it.
Today, while the trip is much easier, its effect on commerce and the economic relationship between the two areas is just as important. With that in mind, Aroostook County officials are planning to continue the tradition next month with a journey marking the 56th anniversary of that first caravan.
On Feb. 15, the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce will be coordinating a trip from Ashland to Quebec City for the annual Winter Carnival. Nearly half of the trip will be made through the northern Maine woods on logging roads.
The Ashland Rotary Club and Northern Maine Community College re-established the trips in 2002 as a way to honor the early caravans.
The 56th Anniversary Caravan will be leaving Dean’s Hotel in Portage at 7 a.m. Trailmaster Jim Dumond will lead the caravan through the Fish Lake Road to a midmorning stop at Maibec then on to the Canadian border at St. Pamphile.
All vehicles will be equipped with radio communications provided by Aroostook Technologies Inc. in order to assist with the safe passage on the logging roads. From St. Pamphile, the caravan continues to the Trans Canada then to the ferry crossing at Levis and onward into Quebec City.
“The trips are always a lot of fun,” Theresa Fowler, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday. “I think that everyone enjoys the Winter Carnival, but the trip through the woods is the highlight for most of us. There have been a lot of great memories made just in the past decade or so since the caravans got started again.”
The purpose of the 1957 caravan was to make a road through the Maine woods that would connect northern Maine with Quebec. Support vehicles such as fuel trucks, emergency vehicles, law enforcement and more made up the group. Some of the route had to be bulldozed and cut out with chainsaws.
The trips continued, and the first mail delivered to Clayton Lake through Maine was delivered by the caravan in 1960. One year, a Quebec family, stranded in a snowstorm, was rescued by members of the caravan. The relationship with Quebec City and their Winter Carnival was eventually established.
“We now have people of a variety of ages come along on these trips,” said Fowler. “We’ve had young children up to senior citizens. We usually have an average of 30-35 people each year.”
Fowler said that the recent trips have also featured interesting events. In 2004, a Presque Isle couple was married when the crew made a scheduled luncheon stop at Clayton Lake Woodlands at Clayton Lake. Humorist Gary Crocker and Survivor winner Bob Crowley joined the group one year. A Maine legislative proclamation recognized the 50th anniversary of the caravan and was presented in Quebec City.
Fowler said that participants make their own hotel reservations and the return trip is on their own. A tour of the Quebec Parliament is scheduled for Friday afternoon, Feb. 15, and a reception at City Hall with representatives from the mayor’s office, Winter Carnival officials and more will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16. The rest of the weekend is for the enjoyment of the Winter Carnival.
“This event is open to anyone,” she said. “You don’t have to be a resident of The County. Anyone who wants to join us is welcome.”
For information on registering for the caravan contact the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce at 764-6561 or Sarah Brooks at 551-6471. A $30-per-person registration fee is required. You can also download a registration form by visiting the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce on Facebook under Maine-Quebec Winter Carnival.