FORT KENT, Maine — All Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond wanted was to preserve a little piece of regional history.

He certainly had no intention of violating any international boundary laws when he removed the two bronze plaques marking the U.S.-Canada border line on the old international bridge linking Fort Kent to Clair, New Brunswick.

But, according to an official at the International Boundary Commission, that is exactly what Guimond did, even though his path to historic preservation was paved with good intentions.

This past summer a new concrete bridge opened to traffic, replacing the 84-year-old steel-truss bridge. The last of that old bridge came down Friday.

“When the demolition contract got awarded, everyone knew the old bridge was being torn down,” Guimond said Monday. “Our concern was the markers would be destroyed or used as recycled steel.”

So over the summer, Guimond removed the plaques that he described as “mirror images” of each other with the words “International Boundary Line” appearing on both. The words “United States” and “Canada” also appear on each sign, but in different order depending on which side of the bridge it was intended to face.

Guimond gave one marker to the director of the Canadian Port of Entry in Clair and tucked the second one away in his office at the Fort Kent municipal building.

“The thinking was we could do something with it next to the America’s First Mile monument which is right near the international bridge,” Guimond said. “Maybe some sort of monument with the [boundary] plaque with a little bit of history of the old bridge.”

Federal authorities, it turned out, had other plans. But late Monday it appeared Guimond’s boundary plaque plans might get a second chance.

About two months after Guimond removed the signs, a representative from the International Boundary Commission appeared in his office to take back the one Guimond had.

“It’s against the law to remove these plaques,” Kevin Bagwell, engineering technician for the International Boundary Commission’s eastern regional field office in Houlton, said on Monday.

It is the job of the boundary commission field officers, like Bagwell, to keep track and maintain all boundary markers along the 3,987-mile long U.S.-Canadian border.

Removal or in any way defacing any of the thousand of markers along that line, according to Bagwell, is a federal offense.

“The [international bridge] plaques are an actual survey marker that has a position in our database,” he said. “Even though the bridge was coming down, they remained official markers.”

Bagwell said it had been his intent to remove and hopefully reuse the plaques on the new bridge as historical nods to the past.

When staff from Bagwell’s office went to retrieve the signs and discovered them missing, he said, they soon learned from agents at the U.S. port of entry in Fort Kent that Guimond had gotten there first.

The boundary commission employees immediately sought Guimond out to reclaim them.

“The boundary guys came to get them,” Guimond said. “It was sitting right there in my office [after] we had cleaned it up.”

Both Guimond and the officials at the Clair border crossing gave the plaques up with no incident.

“They handed them right over,” Bagwell said.

When Bagwell saw the condition of the signs, he decided to go with new plaques to mark the border on the new bridge.

“They are in pretty rough shape from being hit too many times by the snowplows,” he said. “We don’t melt things down [because] these are part of boundary commission history.”

Both signs for now are in Bagwell’s Houlton office along with other boundary memorabilia he has retrieved over the years.

But they may not be there for long.

Late Monday, Bagwell said he had contacted U.S. International Boundary Commissioner Kyle Hipsley who informed him the commission has no problem donating the plaques to Fort Kent.

“They can’t go to an individual, but they can go to a municipality or other agency,” Bagwell said. “If they want it, someone has to contact me and get the ball rolling.”

When told of Hipsley’s decision, Guimond said he planned to do just that.

According to the International Boundary Commission Act, “Except with the permission of the Commission, no person shall pull down, deface, alter or remove a boundary monument erected or maintained by the Commission; or have a boundary monument or any portion thereof in his possession or custody.”

Enforcing the law, Bagwell, said is up to his office and he can’t remember having to ever fine or send anyone to jail.

Guimond, he stressed, is not in any trouble since the plaques were returned to the commission.

“But people really should not touch, remove or put anything on these markers,” Bagwell added.


Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.