FORT KENT, Maine — I remember sitting on my couch five years ago on a Sunday afternoon when Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives in Fort Kent, called to tell me the St. John Valley had just been chosen to join New Brunswick and Quebec in hosting the 2014 World Acadian Congress.
In doing so, we not only edged out Lafayette, Louisiana and Quebec City for the honor, we formed Acadia of the Lands and Forests, a region that includes northern Maine, southwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata area of Quebec.
Five years and roughly 15 days after that excited phone call the 2014 World Acadian Congress is winding down and in a few days our guests from Acadia and beyond will be gone but certainly not forgotten.
It will be awhile before there are any hard facts and figures on total attendance spread out over the area or the resulting economic impact.
But going simply by the sheer number of family reunions going on — more than 120 — and the quantity of out-of-state license plates I saw these past couple of weeks, I’m betting the impact will be significant.
But those are just numbers. As far as I’m concerned, the impact that counts is the one hosts and visitors made on each other.
And there is little doubt those were favorable and lasting.
In just going about day-to-day business since Aug. 8, it was impossible to not run into someone “from away,” and suddenly you had a new friend from Louisiana, Nova Scotia or Europe.
It was the stuff from which great memories are made.
Like the couple from New Orleans I met while I was having lunch and drying out after participating in the Acadian Queen river ferry crossing in Grand Isle.
It poured rain that day and the bowl of chicken stew avec ployes at Morin’s Variety in Madawaska seemed the perfect remedy. Free WiFi on site, making it possible to file the Acadian Queen story, was simply the topping on that ploye.
The New Orleans couple ordered just after I did and was leaning toward the diner’s homemade soup, but were not entirely convinced ployes were a better option than biscuits.
After listening to the waitress extol the virtue of the traditional Acadian buckwheat flatbread that is the ploye, I could not help but add my two cents worth.
Coming to the St. John Valley and not having ployes, I told them, would be like my going to New Orleans and not having gumbo.
It worked. As I was leaving, and her husband had left to pay their tab, I asked the woman how they liked them.
“Well,” she said. “My husband ate all of his and two of mine.”
Ploye mission accomplished.
At the Acadian Mass in Madawaska I ran into a group of five cousins and their aunt who had flown from Louisiana to Nova Scotia and then rented a van to drive to the St. John Valley.
“We’ve been driving around and getting lost a lot,” Madelyn Broussard Maragos said. She was at the mass with her cousins Debbie Broussard Choate, Faye Broussard Prejean, Camille Trahan Huval and Karen Schroder and their aunt and “chaperone” Cheryl Broussard Perret. “We’ve also been singing French songs, trying new food and making new friends.”
Some of the cousins had attended past Acadian Congresses and this time decided to make it an “all gal” event.
“We wanted to connect with distant cousins,” Choate said. “It’s an opportunity to attend some Acadian celebrations and at the same time reflect on the history of the Acadians.”
Walking to the mass, I bumped into Madawaska resident Hermine Trudelle who had no time to take in any festivities.
“I have about 25 family [members] coming over for lunch,” she said as she directed her husband and a few relatives in moving picnic tables, chairs and the gas grill. “Yes, I am doing the ‘grand menage’ [big cleaning] now and probably after they leave.”
As people streamed past her house, Trudelle said she never thought Madawaska would see the crowds that were turning out.
And turn out they did.
That night a crowd estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 stretched for close to a half mile as the massive Tintamarre parade snaked down Main Street with all those people making as much noise as they possibly could, telling the world the Acadians are still here.
Normally I avoid such crowds, but there was just something different about the Tintamarre and the positive energy it gave off.
Swept along with the group and ringing my own cow bell for all it was worth, for that moment I felt every bit as Acadian as any of the Daigles, Cyrs, Thibodeaus or descendants of the original Acadian settlers surrounding me from both sides of the border.
Speaking of borders, there was a little friendly competition going on with the congress.
A tug-of-war over the St. John River between Van Buren and St. Leonard, New Brunswick, ended with the US team taking the best two-out-of-three event, despite the stated strategy of the St. Leonard team to “pull really hard.”
There was a bit of payback this week when Edmundston apparently pulled off creating the “world’s largest ploye.”
I have to say the photos of the 15-foot Canadian ploye showed more of a misshapen buckwheat “thing” than the perfectly round 12-foot ploye created the week prior by Bouchard Family Farms in Fort Kent.
We can now only sit back and await what promises to be an exciting ploye smack down, or maybe “pour down,” next year.
Five years, 15 days after that call from Lise and pretty much everyone involved with the 2014 World Acadian Congress has enough memories to last a life time.
It’s been an exhausting two weeks, and we are to be forgiven if we are a bit tired up here in the north. But maybe not too tired to start thinking about making reservations for the 2019 World Acadian Congress when it kicks off in Southwest New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
I can’t wait.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.