FORT KENT, Maine — The sun rose over the opening of the 2014 World Acadian Congress Friday as dignitaries from the host regions in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec gathered for a symbolic erasing of the borders where the three boundaries meet.
Accompanied by First Nations’ drummers and an Acadian fiddler, the officials, including Maine Gov. Paul LePage, were brought by canoe to the Quebec shores of Beau Lake where the ceremony was livestreamed to eight locations around the area.
At the Fort Kent breakfast celebrating the event, Maine first lady Ann LePage gave her husband high marks for his comments at the ceremony made entirely in French.
“This was absolutely phenomenal,” Ann LePage said after watching the ceremony. “It was just awesome and gave me goosebumps.”
Participants at Beau Lake were presented small pouches of sacred herbs by chiefs representing the Micmac and Maliseet First Nations which were then placed into a ceremonial fire.
A monument carrying the American, Canadian and Quebec flags was dedicated at the location and, with that, the 2014 World Acadian Congress was declared open.
“This is the beginning of 17 days of celebrating our heritage,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager, said at the Fort Kent gathering. “When this region was settled by our ancestors there were no borders [and] we are still neighbors and all in this together.”
This marks the first time in its 25-year history that a World Acadian Congress, which is held every five years, has been hosted by two countries in two time zones.
Program events taking place in New Brunswick are listed in Atlantic time zone, an hour ahead of those listed in Maine and Quebec which are both in the Eastern time zone.
“Wow, we’re here,” George Dumond, co-president of the international World Acadian Congress planning committee, said from Fort Kent in reference to the start of festivities. “The logistics have been a challenge, to say the least, but here we are and we are ready.”
Planning for this Acadian Congress began in 2009 and for the next two weeks more than 300 events are taking place among the 50 participating municipalities.
“The real challenge now is going to be choosing which events to attend,” Dumond said.
Highlighting the Acadian Congress are the so-called “pillar days” — today’s opening, Acadian Day on Aug. 15 and the closing ceremony on Aug. 24.
In between there are 120 family reunions, historical reenactments, street fairs, parades, concerts, athletic competitions, seminars, conferences and performances throughout what has been dubbed Acadia of the Lands and Forests.
The streets were quiet in Madawaska Friday afternoon while crowds were light in Edmundston, New Brunswick, as people prepared for the opening event that evening in Edmundston’s Turgeon Park with a projected cast of 500 musicians, singers and performers.
Mary Ann Bosse was on her way home to St. Agatha Friday afternoon, after picking up several Acadian flags to decorate her home in anticipation of her upcoming Guerette family reunion.
“This is going to be so nice,” she said of the Acadian Congress. “I am very excited it is here and it will probably never happen again in my lifetime.”
Bosse is confident the area is ready to welcome the world to the St. John Valley.
“It will be unbelievable to see all the people,” she said. “I can’t wait to meet new people and find long lost relatives.”
With a budget of $14 million, the Acadian Congress is projected to pump $55 million into the region’s economy, according to Dumond.
“This is a legacy we want to last,” he said. “The economic benefits generated by the Congress are the start of something long term.”
Already a committee has been formed to examine and work on ways to keep the tourism and related economic components of the World Acadian Congress continuing into the future.
The Acadian Congress, he said, will introduce the rest of the world to the unique Francophone culture and heritage of northern Maine and the St. John Valley.
Anita Huval, a teacher from Lafayette, Louisiana, attending an international education workshop in Fort Kent this month, is already hooked.
“I was just amazed, as an Acadian, to learn there are Acadians in Maine,” she said following Friday’s ceremony. “I even found a long-lost ancestor was from here [and] my mother was a Babineau and I will be attending their family reunion while I am here.”
The enthusiasm would seem to be running both ways.
“One woman I met who is a Babineau from here asked if she could take my picture,” Huval said. “She told me she wanted a picture of a Babineau from Louisiana.”
For Lise Pelletier, the director of the Acadian Archives in Fort Kent, Friday marked the culmination of six years of efforts, starting with her work in 2008 to convince World Acadian Congress officials to bring the event to the area.
Later in the day, she was being honored with a Governor General of Canada’s award acknowledging her work.
“I am just elated today is here,” she said. “We are ready, we are together and let the party begin.”
More information about World Acadian Congress events and a complete program are available online at www.cma2014.com/en.