Spirit of Cooperation Returns to International Festival

By Lura Jackson

 

On Thursday, February 22nd, a group of representatives from St. Stephen joined together with their counterparts in Calais to express their shared commitment to the International Festival, a time-honored tradition honoring the centuries-long relationship between the two municipalities. The meeting was the first of the reformed International Festival Committee since last year’s festival when communication issues nearly derailed the parade. Twenty-five people were in attendance at the meeting.

It was widely agreed that the “international” component of the festival needs to return as its primary focus, something that could be accomplished in part by having competitions between the comparable parties from each town. Examples included holding contests between the fire departments, border agencies, or town officials, having a tug of war over the St. Croix River, or sponsoring tournaments for games like darts, pool, or trivia. The good-natured competitions would generate publicity and attendance between the towns and build momentum for future years.

Several of those present noted that part of the challenge in the past has emerged from the Chocolate Festival and its occasional overlap with the International Festival. The week-long Chocolate Festival celebrates the oldest industry in St. Stephen and draws many resources and volunteers. Alex Reid, St. Stephen’s Events Development Coordinator, said that this year’s Chocolate Fest is scheduled from August 1st to August 8th. The International Festival, meanwhile, would begin on August 8th, according to the traditional schedule. While there would not be a direct conflict in scheduling this year, it was acknowledged that volunteers and resources would still be depleted at the start of the International Festival. “We run into the situation where our volunteers are exhausted,” said St. Stephen Deputy Mayor Jason Carr.

Various scheduling options were briefly discussed, including possibly rescheduling International Festival, shortening the Chocolate Festival, or lengthening the International Festival. Deputy Mayor Carr said that since there is not a significant amount of planning time left before this year’s event, and in recognition of the nearly-avoided calamity last year, the committee should simply focus on what it can do to make the festival happen this year. Carr said that planning for future years could come down the road. “Most likely, we’re not going to have any huge changes this year. Grab yourself a handful of events that are big for both sides of the border, and really do them, and do them strong.” Carr said that ideally the festival will be planned out in a five-year window.

Theresa Porter of Calais noted that most of the events that are held are put on by different clubs, groups, or organizations, and that the work that needed to be done by the committee was primarily related to advertising, funding, and planning the parade. The costs associated with the festival are generally insurance, fireworks, money to print brochures, and money for attractions such as bounce houses.

Calais Mayor Billy Howard proposed that events such as fishing tournaments or raft races would be larger attractions with possible prizes, and said that live music was another major draw. “We need a couple of events to get people to the waterfront. It doesn’t matter what side you’re watching it from.”

Porter commented that there could be more sports events involved, such as swimming races, baseball, softball, or a renewal of the alumni basketball game between Calais and St. Stephen.

“Let’s look at one or two new events for this year, see what we can build on…Bringing the international theme back into it is definitely a must,” said Deputy Mayor Carr. He impressed that the committee needs to “break the mold” with new events, or to bring back ones that worked really well in the past that may have run out of steam. “We’re a new generation. We can try it again, put a different spin on it, and it just might work.”

Some new events are already in the works, such as a car show at D & G Auto and a potential music performance by the Crown Vics. Other events will be modified. Speaking on behalf of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, Michael Carmody said that the street fair will be extended from Calais Avenue to Jo’s Diner, encompassing one lane of the street rather than two for better browsing capability.

Before any significant event planning is to take place, it was agreed that a chairperson from each side of the border should be appointed. With no immediate nominations, it was agreed that nominees would be sought for the next meeting. “On both sides, I would like to see half a dozen people standing right behind and supporting the chair,” said Calais City Manager Jim Porter.

“I firmly believe that the appointed chairs should become close friends,” added Reid.

The two parties acknowledged that the near-cancellation of last year’s parade was mainly a “huge communication issue” and resoundingly affirmed by both parties that it would not be a problem this year. “Some people feel on our side that it’s dead in the water, but if we have to put the life paddles on the darn thing, let’s do it,” said St. Stephen resident Darren McCabe.

“Our community needs this,” Calais City Councilor Mike Sherrard immediately agreed.

The next meeting of the International Festival Committee will be March 8th at 5:00 p.m. at the Calais City Building. All who are interested in volunteering or in making suggestions are invited to attend.