44th International Homecoming Festival Offers Nostalgic Family Fun

By Lura Jackson

 

Every year since 1973, August in St. Croix Valley has been marked by the International Homecoming Festival. The occasion sees the streets of Calais and St. Stephen filled with residents and visitors of all ages, each partaking in a celebration that honors the tradition of international community and the spirit of reunion with family and friends. While the festival has had its share of financial difficulties in the past few years, this year’s event is proceeding full-steam ahead, with many familiar festivities anticipated to offer thrills, family fun, and relaxing enjoyment. 

“We are welcoming back many of the events people are excited for each year,” said Jayna Smith, one of the three volunteers that organizes the event on the American side. 

The festival officially begins on Wednesday with an international handshake between dignitaries at Ferry Point Bridge. That same day, the always-popular youth street dance – sponsored by Calais Fire-EMS – will be held in the Calais City Building parking lot, beginning at 8 p.m.

On Thursday, the children’s events ramp up with Calais Regional Hospital’s annual Peanut Fair, held behind Calais Elementary School at 4 p.m. (only plastic peanuts are used). During the same time period at the school, children can bring in their favorite stuffed animal or doll for a free checkup at the Doll Hospital. 

Thursday evening will see the halls of Calais High School rumbling with the enthusiasm of the crowd as former Blue Devil champions go toe to toe during the 2017 Blue Devil Alumni Basketball Classic, beginning at 5:30. There will be raffles and giveaways during the event with all proceeds being donated to local charities. 

If you’re in the mood for a laugh on Thursday night, make sure to stop in at Camden National Bank beginning at 6 p.m. That’s where Tom Brennan will be unveiling his annual art show – with this year’s theme being Humor in the St. Croix Valley. Brennan has created fantastic caricatures of several local notables, among them legendary New England humorist Tim Sample. Sample himself will be at the event to regale visitors. 

Thursday’s events wrap up with a concert by country music artist David Mallett in Triangle Park, sponsored by the St. Croix Valley Chamber of Commerce. Mallet will be performing from 7-9 p.m.

As usual, the big day for events is Saturday, and the intrepid festival goer will find no shortage of activities to attend. The fun begins at 7 a.m. with Cow Patti Bingo and breakfast at the Masonic Hall on Calais Avenue. The street fair starts at 8 a.m., so expect to see plenty of vendors with novelty goods and fair foods downtown, including Sebastian’s wood-fired pizza. Also starting at 8 is the Fun Run, a 1-mile race for kids up to age 12 in Memorial Park. Kids can register 15 minutes in advance. An hour later, the adults’ 5-mile run begins in the same spot. Because the adults’ run is an international track – certified by both USATF and Athletics Canada – racers will need to provide passports and register in advance between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, participants can purchase tickets for the Lioness Superdraw, featuring goods from more than 100 local businesses. Tickets can be purchased downtown at the street fair. The drawings will be held at 2 p.m.

This year’s selection of giant inflatables will be opened to children at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Rather than hosting the inflatables along the waterfront as in years past, the inflatables will be erected at Triangle Park to improve visibility. Laser tag will also be available for children to enjoy in the same location. Funding challenges have limited the inflatables and laser tag to Saturday only, so be sure to come by between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if your children want to participate.

The grand parade begins this year at noon. Typically, the parade alternates its starting position every year, meaning that it would begin in Calais, however, due to construction in St. Stephen the parade will be beginning in St. Stephen once again. Right after the parade, come by the parking lot next to Camden National Bank to witness the Lions Club auction.

Saturday’s events wrap up at 3 p.m. with the annual Big Comp at the Calais Skatepark. Competitors in various categories and age groups will show their skills at doing tricks and stunts with BMX bikes and skateboards.

On Sunday, join the community for a Festival Brunch at St. Croix Country Club at 10 a.m. If you’re still hungry after that, Sebastian’s will be in Triangle Park starting at 11 with more of its famous wood-fired pizza. At 1 p.m. Doug Rodgerson will be singing gospel songs in Triangle Park, and at 2:30 a doll and carriage show will be held in the same spot. At 3, story time with Miss International Homecoming Festival queens and princesses will be conducted, also in Triangle Park. If you’d prefer a window into history instead, come up to the cemetery at 3 for the annual Cemetery Tour by the St. Croix Historical Society. Live actors will retell the story of the lives of Calais residents of years past. At 4, stop by Triangle Park for sidewalk drawing for children of all ages. At 7, Saturday Night Rock Band will be crooning its lively tunes all throughout Triangle Park, and at 8:30 be sure to see the fireworks display over the St. Croix River, sponsored by Hardwicke’s.

Despite financial challenges and a lack of volunteers that resulted in some setbacks – including the cancellation of the fundraising road toll and the reduction of time for the inflatables and laser tag – this year’s festival promises to be a noteworthy event. “Thankfully, we have many individuals and local businesses who support us year after year with financial donations,” said Smith.