End of World Acadian Congress focused on future for the region

Posted Aug. 28, 2014, at 11:13 a.m.

The end was a beginning on the closing day of the World Acadian Congress, hosted by northwestern New Brunswick, the Temiscouata region of Quebec and the St. John Valley of Maine.

In Aug. 24 ceremonies at Parc Clair Soleil in Temiscouata sur-le-Lac, Quebec, the focus was on the future.

Communities representing the three regions celebrated the friendships that formed through their collaboration as triplets (and in some cases quadruplets) during the five years leading up to the 17-day World Acadian Congress.

And children from those communities left their mark on a new sculpture by Pohenegamook artist Francois Maltais that they may visit in years to come, perhaps with their own children, to remember the 2014 celebration of their Acadian heritage.

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Mallory Beaulieu, 8, of Van Buren was honored to be selected from among the second grade students at her school to represent her town in the dedication of the sculpture.

“She was excited,” said her father, John Beaulieu, calling the sculpture a lasting reminder that this area was selected for a world-class event celebrating Acadian culture. “When she is older, we will take her back.”

Van Buren was partnered with St. Leonard, New Brunswick, and the Quebec communities of Pohenegamook and St. Athanase — a quadruplet symbolized in a softball game Sunday morning in Pohenegamook.

Ball players of all ages blended into two teams, their origins denoted only by the color of their T-shirts: Quebec — red, New Brunswick — white, and Maine — yellow. Fans in the stands cheered for every hit, catch and run, with equivalent shouts of encouragement for strikeouts and misses in the field.

“There are no winners or losers,” said Pohenegamook Mayor Louise LaBonte in welcoming remarks, translated for me by Pat Ezzy of Van Buren. The goal was to have a good time.

LaBonte joined St. Athanase mayor Andre St. Pierre in honoring their Maine and New Brunswick guests by presenting Pohenegamook flags to each town. After a picnic lunch of hot dogs and grilled hamburgers provided by the Quebec communities, participants made the 45-minute trip to Cabano for the afternoon’s closing ceremonies on the shore of Lac Temiscouata.

It was evident that the World Acadian Congress had spawned a new territory — Acadia of the Lands and Forests — as residents from communities in 14 triplets and quadruplets assembled behind their respective banners in a downtown parking lot. Maine communities from Allagash to Hamlin and Fort Kent to Wallagrass joined their Quebec and New Brunswick neighbors for a noisy parade — yes, another Tintamarre — through the streets of town to Parc Clair Soleil.

Political boundaries dissolved in the emergence of one community bound by its Acadian culture. One after another, the groups of partnered towns and villages, led by a team of six Clydesdale horses, marched past cheering crowds lining the way to the park. I had hoped to take pictures but found myself on the other end of dozens of lenses focused on the procession.

The destination was the Place de l’Acadie, a section of the park created as a tribute to Acadia of the Lands and Forests. Landscaped with prolific gardens, the park features three flower ponds representing the three territories comprising the new Acadian entity. Celebrants gathered around Maltais’ four-meter red, white and blue sculpture rising like a tall hat from a five pointed star.

Moist cement in the five points awaited the small hands of children from each participating town. Led by Alexis Ruest of Edmundston, New Brunswick, dressed in the familiar red, white and blue attire and face paint seen on World Acadian Congress promotional materials, children from across the region came forward as their names were called.

Pressing their hands into the base of the sculpture, they made impressions destined to last a lifetime, and longer, like the heritage they will pass on to future generations.

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 kathryn.olmstead@umit.maine.edu or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.


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