French was the dominant language, but the energy was bilingual in Van Buren Wednesday when delegations from towns in Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine formed a new alliance to celebrate the 2014 World Acadian Congress/Congres mondial acadien in August.
With participants from French-speaking countries around the world gathering for the congress held every five years, the host region comprising portions of Quebec, New Brunswick and northern Maine expects tens of thousands of visitors Aug. 8-24.
Van Buren and her sister towns in Canada will be ready. Plans include a parade across the international bridge, called a Tintamarre or town commotion, an international tug-of-war across the St. John River, concerts, vendors, a bonfire and fireworks, all on Aug 10.
Led by co-chairs Lydia Martin and Patricia Ezzy of Van Buren, a CMA planning committee has grown from nine to 19 members in the last year and a half.
“It’s just great how everyone has come together for this,” Martin said Wednesday at Van Buren’s Aroostook Hospitality Inn where about 40 people celebrated the cooperative efforts of four municipalities in the two Canadian provinces and Maine.
In anticipation of the congress, towns in the host region are getting together in cooperative “triplets.” St. Leonard, N.B., and Van Buren, Maine, are “tripled” (or quadrupled) with the Quebec towns of Pohenegamook and St. Athanase.
From 1789, when Acadians first settled in the region, until 1842, when the Webster-Ashburton Treaty made the St. John River the border between Canada and the United States, St. Leonard and Van Buren were a single community named Grande Riviere that stretched across the river.
Symbolic of the friendship that has formed with their Quebec neighbors during CMA meetings, St. Leonard and Van Buren on Wednesday formally proclaimed the citizens of Pohenegamook and St. Athanase honorary citizens of Grande Riviere for the 2014 celebrations.
“While meeting with the tripling communities, St. Leonard and Van Buren were reminded of the Acadian culture and values we shared as former citizens of Grande Riviere,” said Ezzy in an introduction to the proclamation. “We also realized that we share a common interest with our tripling friend and we have the same desire to prosper and develop our communities to their full potential.”
Nancy Troeger, acting town manager of Van Buren, and Carmel St. Amand, mayor of St. Leonard, signed proclamation certificates and presented them to Louise LaBonte, mayor of Pohenegamook and Andre St. Pierre, mayor of St. Athanase.
The two town officials also presented their Quebec counterparts with the blue and white flag of Grande Riviere, first unfurled in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the original town.
The proclamation ceremony, followed by a luncheon, concluded a morning of activities that began at the new Port of Entry between Van Buren and St. Leonard where Port Director Patricia Scull detailed how U.S. Customs and Border Protection is preparing for the thousands of visitors expected for the 17-day congress.
“We have been planning for over a year,” she said, explaining that plans call for extra equipment, extra money and extra personnel who speak French.
“We are prepared for the influx,” Scull told a group of 15 municipal officials and CMA committee members from the two provinces and Maine. She explained how CBP will monitor the international tug-of-war across the St. John River and showed how the enormous enclosed cargo bay will be used as a processing center for busloads of visitors.
All three lanes will be open for CMA traffic and 10 portable toilets will be added outside the building for people waiting to be processed.
From the Port of Entry the group traveled to the Lajoie Farms complex where they were greeted by fifth generation farmer Jay Lajoie in a small museum of equipment and products honoring the agricultural tradition in his family dating to 1901. Known for their blue potatoes, the company also grows a variety of vegetables and grains for processing and the fresh market.
Tours like these help cement bonds among the communities as they work together to welcome the world in August.
‘”You could feel the bond,” Martin said after Wednesday’s festivities, describing a new plan for an annual softball game hosted on a rotating basis by the four municipalities. “We are looking forward to continuing this celebration of our common culture for years to come – no more borders.”
For more information visit www.cma2014.com.
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.