FORT KENT, Maine — The countdown to 2014 is on with Sunday’s announcement that northern Maine — together with neighboring regions in New Brunswick and Quebec — has been selected as the site that year for the Acadian World Congress.
The international event has the potential of drawing 50,000 visitors to the region over a three-week period in August 2014 with a direct economic impact of $55 million and the creation of up to 20 full-time jobs over the planning period in addition to major financial support for local historical societies and museums.
The announcement came during the current Acadian World Congress, which is taking place on the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick.
A delegation of 37 representatives from both sides of the St. John Valley made the trip by bus to hear the news firsthand from officials with the Societe National de l’Acadie.
“We did it,” Louise Martin, director of the Maine Acadian Heritage Council and the application committee’s co-president, said by phone Sunday morning from the Acadian village in Caraquet, New Brunswick. “I wasn’t too nervous, but then when the announcement came, my heart just stopped.”
Lasting a month, each congress includes up to 300 activities, conferences, cultural events, economic discussions and sporting events.
“This is huge,” Martin said. “Every town and village in the region has the opportunity to be involved and do something.”
The successful application was the first ever submitted by an international group.
The Maine Acadian Heritage Council teamed up with the Forum of Mayors of Northwestern New Brunswick and municipal leaders from the Temisquata region of Quebec to form L’Acadie des Terres et Foret — Acadia of the Lands and Forests.
“This is a great day for us,” Jacques Martin, mayor of Edumundston, New Brunswick, said by phone. “This is a great project with our neighbors in Aroostook County and Quebec.”
The group received the unanimous support of the Societe National de l’Acadie. Its proposal beat out competing applications from Quebec City and Lafayette, La.
The group’s detailed application included more than 120 letters of support from international leaders, educators, journalists and citizens.
“This is fabulous for us,” Jacques Martin said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us and the next five years will be quite a challenge, but I am sure we have the team to do it.”
The Edmundston mayor added that organizers from the current Acadian World Congress have pledged their support for the 2014 planning process.
Good news travels fast, and it didn’t take long for word to make it back to the St. John Valley.
“For us in Maine this has such a broad ripple effect,” said Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. “This is about our future and our culture and making that culture work for us.”
Pelletier, who was part of the application committee, said the event will take full advantage of the two universities within the region, with UMFK joining the Edmundston campus of the University of Moncton in offering numerous scholarly opportunities.
“We even have time to do research and publish academic papers of our own,” Pelletier said.
The Acadian World Congress, which has become the largest gathering of Acadians in the world, is held every five years. The first took place in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 1994. In 1999 the follow-up event in Louisiana attracted 300,000 people.
Three hundred years ago, the ruling British forcibly deported Acadians who had settled in Nova Scotia when they refused to take an oath of allegiance and fight against the French.
The action became known as the Grand Derangement and scattered Acadians across North America, including into the St. John Valley.
“But we remain a secret, even though we have the largest concentration of French-speaking people in the country with 85 percent speaking the language,” Pelletier said.
Hosting the world congress will allow residents within the region to shine a spotlight on the area’s Acadian culture.
“It’s about the survival of our culture and of our language,” Pelletier said. “Our language is still alive with our culture, and we want to share that with the world.”
Towns in the St. John Valley already share that culture with events like the annual Acadian Festival in Madawaska and this weekend’s Ploye Festival in Fort Kent.
“These events can still go on in 2014,” Louise Martin said. “They can be a part of the congress.”
For the three weeks of the congress, Acadians from all walks of life and from around the globe gather to discuss just what it means to be an Acadian historically, culturally, geographically, linguistically and socially.
A highlight of the congress is Aug. 15, International Acadian Day, Pelletier said.
“At 6 p.m. every August 15 Acadians come out of their homes with pots and pans or whatever makes a sound and make as much noise as they can,” Pelletier said. “It’s kind of a snub toward the [British] saying ‘we are still here.’”
Given Sunday’s announcement, Pelletier predicts this year’s “Tintamarre” on Aug. 15 will be especially loud.
“Of course, now the real work planning the conference begins,” she added.