St. Stephen – There will be an International Homecoming Festival this year.
And it will be international in every sense of the word, said St. Stephen’s Deputy Mayor Jason Carr.
“Both communities want a festival,” said Carr. “The original festival organizers thought it would go on forever. I think we lost a little of that in the past few years.”
The festival is in its 45th year this year, and celebrates the cross border friendship and spirit of cooperation between the City of Calais, Me., and St. Stephen, NB.
In recent years, organizing committees on both sides of the St. Croix River have diminished in size and after last year’s festival, the chairs of both committees resigned after several years of planning the summer event.
Carr said a joint meeting was held in late February at the Calais City Building. In attendance were about 20 people, including members of Calais City Council, as well as representatives from St. Stephen.
Carr, and Coun. Ghislaine Wheaton attended, as did several other residents of the town who have helped organize the festival in years past.
“It wasn’t a committee meeting, just a session to get together and say where do we go, and how do get there. We all expressed an interest in seeing the success of this year’s festival.”
Names for Canadian and American cochairs were “tossed around.”
Two individuals from Calais have expressed interest, but have not yet confirmed.
“I want to see it succeed,” said Carr. “It’s something the communities have had all these years. We need to work hard to keep it going.”
Carr said he has had discussions with Mayor Allan MacEachern, and chief administrative officer Jeff Renaud about the possibility of the town’s events development coordinator Alex Reid taking a larger role in the festival’s organization.
“I’d like to see our events coordinator be that point person,” said Carr. “With him being on staff, he could spend as much or as little time on what needs to be done.”
Carr said there has been an interest in coordinating more festival events with the town’s Chocolate Fest, which takes place the same week.
“As good a festival as it is, how does it affect the international festival? It can tend to take the focus away from international festival events,” stated Carr.
“We want to be able to work hand in hand, to have their events be part of our events. We want them to be part of us.”
Carr said he agreed with Calais Mayor Billy Howard’s desire to have more new events during the festival. Carr said a suggestion to bring back successful events of past festivals led to conversation surrounding the return of the international Tug-of-War contest to highlight the international flavour of the festival.
As it stands, Carr said, there are only two events which are truly international in scope – the parade and the fireworks display.
Discussion was also had on perhaps making better use of the river, or hosting swimming or skating events at the Garcelon Civic Center.
There are opportunities for the festival to grow, said Carr.
One thing he suggested was to focus this year on the Hands Across The Border ceremony, which traditionally kicks off the festival.
Colour parties from legions, residents and members of councils from both sides of the river bear witness to a formal handshake between the mayors of the communities.
In the past the ceremony is held at supper time. Carr would like to see that changed to later in the evening so more people are available to attend.
Carr said it was recommended the festival organizing committees hold regular meetings together as they had done years ago, not separately in each community as in recent years.
There will be one web site and Facebook page. He also said planning must be done for the future.
“We need to be looking at several years ahead. We will focus on this year, but know what’s on tap, maybe develop a five year plan.”
But he said with many of the annual events, “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” noting many of the events look after themselves with an associated volunteer network.
What is needed, he said, was the organizing of a time line so the events flow together and don’t conflict. That includes coordinating with the Chocolate Fest events.
“We need volunteers,” said Carr.
He said it’s hoped by the time the first official organizational meeting is held March 8 in the Calais City Building at 6 p.m. Atlantic, the co-chairs will be in place. Residents from both communities are invited to attend.