It is possible that on Aug. 15, 2014, visitors to Madawaska, Maine, will enlarge the town of 4,000 by six or seven times. No one can say for sure how many people will travel to the St. John Valley for the 2014 World Acadian Congress, but organizers are planning for 25,000 to 35,000 visitors, with Acadian Day on Aug. 15 in Madawaska as the centerpiece of the two-and-a-half-week gathering of Acadians from around the world.
With opening ceremonies in northwestern New Brunswick Aug. 8 and closing ceremonies in the Temiscouata region of Quebec the weekend of Aug. 24, the congress will be hosted by Acadians in the two provinces and in the St. John Valley of Maine.
Held every five years, past congresses in Nova Scotia, Louisiana and New Brunswick have attracted as many as 50,000 Francophones from more than 40 countries.
Titled “L’Acadie des terres et forets (Acadia of the lands and forests)”, the 2014 congress is the fifth to be held and the first to be hosted by two countries — two countries separated by a carefully monitored border.
How will the region accommodate the influx of visitors? How will they all get to and from events, such as the Aug. 15 celebration of Acadian National Feast Day on the bank of the St. John River where Maine’s Acadians first landed? Will there be long lines at the border? Where will they all stay? Where will they park?
Norman Cyr of Madawaska sits on a coordinating committee focused on these kinds of questions.
“We’ll use buses with lists of passengers as much as possible,” Cyr said, adding they hope to reserve as many as 20 tour buses. No cars, just buses, will be allowed on the road leading from Route 1 to the Acadian landing site on the river, where a midmorning Mass will begin the day’s activities Aug. 15. Other Acadian Day events include concerts, a ringing of the Angelus bell at 6 p.m. (a traditional call to prayer) and a “tintamarre” — a parade of pan-banging, noise-making revelers declaring the Acadians are alive and well.
Buses will transport visitors to congress events from parking areas at different locations, Cyr said, citing the shuttle system used for World Cup biathlon events in Fort Kent as a model.
Representatives from both sides of the border at the three main ports of entry in the St. John Valley attended the first coordinating committee meeting held in early 2012. They promised to staff all lanes of traffic at the border crossings between Van Buren and St. Leonard, Madawaska and Edmundston, and Fort Kent and Clair. They also are prepared to expand the number of lanes as needed during the two and a half weeks of events.
“I’m telling people to bring their passports,” Cyr said.
But where will everybody stay?
Maine’s St. John Valley has 32 years of experience hosting Acadian family reunions that draw 700-1,000 people per family. The Cyr family gathered in 2011 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its first reunion in 1981. Of the 13,000 invited, “about 10 percent showed up,” Cyr said. “Accommodations were not a problem — 80 to 90 percent had relatives here.”
Planners of the Acadian Congress envision 120 such family reunions in major communities across the region on each of the three weekends during the congress.
“Of the 61 families announced in the first round, 31 are in Maine,” said Jason Parent, international family reunion task force chairman and president of the World Acadian Congress Maine delegation. The second round of applications was launched in January and will close in June. The second round of reunions will be announced in August, when applications for the third round will open.
“It’s like the Acadian Festival times 120,” said Parent, who is confident visitors will find accommodations. Compared to sites of previous congresses, he said the St. John Valley has more lodging on both sides of the border, including campgrounds, recreational vehicle parks and dorms at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, as well as hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns.
Participants will be traveling to conferences, theatrical productions, concerts, cultural performances and sporting events on both sides of the border and World Acadian Congress organizers are collaborating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Maine Congressional Delegation to assure their travels will not be interrupted.
Parent said the border was a prime concern of the jury that selected “Acadie des terres et forets” over applications from Quebec City and Louisiana for the 2014 congress, and the New Brunswick-Quebec-Maine team was able to convince the jurors from Quebec, British Columbia and Paris, France, that they were capable of staging a transnational congress.
“The dialogue was open from the beginning,” he said, explaining that CBP representatives involved in early meetings assured the jury that “whatever it takes, they will be there.”
So far, planners and border officials have been able to resolve issues surrounding the use of a Canadian firm for the stage, lighting and sound required for major events in the three venues and issues posed by events that span the border, such as a canoe race and a gathering at Bow Lake where Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec come together.
“It’s a unique international event with unique challenges,” said Parent, praising the collaboration on both sides.
Norman Cyr concurs: “Everybody wants to cooperate as much as possible. They realize this is a big economic boost for this area.”
Information about the fifth World Acadian Congress is available at http://cma2014.com/.