International Friendship Celebrated in St. Croix Valley

The Color Guard gave the flags full honor. (Photo by John Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

The darkened skies over the St. Croix Valley were suddenly filled with light Sunday evening as a grand fireworks show began. With each blooming display complemented by resounding booms, the spectacle was a fitting end to a festival celebrating the unique friendship between Calais, Maine, U.S., and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, CAN.

The 45th International Homecoming Festival was, as St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern summarized, “a huge success.” It began with Hands Across the Border, in which hundreds of community members from both sides of the border met to shake hands and exchange miniature flags. The national anthems were sung, and, for the first time, large flags were hung from the bridge, remaining there for the entire festival. “I was blown away by the attendance of our Hands Across the Border event,” MacEachern said. “The bridge was full of people from both countries.”

For the youth of the community, the festival kicked off in earnest at the Youth Street Dance (sponsored by Calais Fire-EMS) on Wednesday night. Led by the incomparable DJ Jamie Bohanon, youth from around the community joined in the fun in one of the best-attended street dances in years. Backpacks from the coming school year were handed out, along with highly coveted titles for the best dance moves in various styles.

It didn’t take long for the community to fill with visitors as long-departed residents returned to visit with their friends and family and new guests arrived to experience the festival for the first time. By Friday evening, downtown Calais was a lively affair. “Business has been picking up for each business around here all week,” said Antony Noyes while assisting at the first-ever beer tent at Karen’s Diner. “Already, we’ve had more people than I expected.”

The annual festival has been a long-standing tradition throughout the lives of some residents. “I’ve been going to festival since I was this tall!” Cheered one such fellow enjoying the downtown festivities as he gestured just above his waist.

The vendors that regularly come to the festival do so because they, too, recognize it as something special. On Sunday evening, the fireworks display was complemented by scores of glowing accessories, including luminescent necklaces, bracelets and hats. Some of them were sold by Russ, a colorful vendor that comes up each year to the festival from his home in Warren, Rhode Island. “I like to come here. The people are nice,” Russ said.

Thanks to…

The 45th International Homecoming Festival would not have been a success without its many components, as organizational committee co-chair Michelle Vest explains. “The festival does take a lot of work and commitment from people on both sides of the border to make it happen.” Vest extended her thanks to the individuals and organizations involved in the planning and execution and the businesses that participated and donated. “You are the backbone and driving force behind this festival and make it what it is today,” Vest said.

Vest extended additional thanks to the local media for their coverage before and of the event, including WQDY, 98.1 Charlotte FM, Fox 22 News Craig Colson and The Calais Advertiser.

Co-chair Roxanne Redding expressed thanks to the many public safety workers that put in so much time and effort during the festival, including Public Works, the Calais Police Dept, Calais Fire and Rescue, Customs and Border Protection, Canada Border Services Agency and others.

A big thank you was extended to the community on both sides of the border for participating in large numbers in each of the events.

Lastly, Hardwicke’s earned special praise for their fireworks show. “I’ve been getting many comments of how this year was the best year ever,” said St. Stephen Deputy Mayor Jason Carr. “They have set the bar high.”

Planning for next year

With the 45th annual International Homecoming festival now concluded, those involved are looking for feedback and volunteers that are interested in planning for next year. Per St. Stephen Councillor Ghislaine Wheaton, a debriefing meeting has been set for Thursday, August 23rd. “We will be looking at what needs to stay the same and what needs to change to make it an even better festival next year,” Wheaton said. “We are also looking at new ideas, new fundraising activities and interested volunteers.”

“It was an absolute pleasure to work with our friends in Calais in this year’s event and I’m looking forward to our follow-up meeting to brainstorm ways to improve, correct and expand for our 46th,” Deputy Mayor Carr said.

 

From Calais City Manager Jim Porter’s perspective, this year’s festival went well. “I am quite satisfied with the festival this year,” Porter said. “Roxanne Redding and Michelle Vest did a great job organizing and promoting it. I think there was a renewed spirit of cooperation between the Calais and St. Stephen Councils. We have something to build on for the future.”