St. Stephen/Calais – It was just a simple handshake between two men, but it signified so much more.
The “Hands Across The Border” ceremony kicked off the 44th annual International Homecoming Festival Wednesday evening, in the middle of the Ferry Point Bridge spanning the St. Croix River between St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Me.
St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern, and Calais Mayor Billy Howard, were accompanied on the bridge by members of their respective councils, colour parties from the Royal Canadian Legion and the American Legion, a red serge-clad RCMP officer, and local citizens. Officers from Canada Border Services Agency and Customs and Border Protection shut down traffic on the bridge during the ceremony.
The two mayors both stressed the importance of the longstanding friendship, and family links between the two border communities.
“Our two communities have a long term relationship. Let’s keep it rolling,” said Howard. “We’re here to reaffirm that friendship.”
“It is very important to keep this going,” said MacEachern.
“I can’t imagine not having this community on one side and us on the other, and not having that connection we have. It’s always been one big community.
“I want to keep holding onto that community, and keep our friendship strong. We’re stronger together,” said MacEachern.
“No matter what goes on in the world, we’re always here together, friends, family, businesses – all of us. Let’s keep holding true to that.”
“Well said,” said Howard.
Saint Croix MLA John Ames also attended the ceremony. In an interview afterwards, Ames said the annual festival was “integral to who we are as citizens of the St. Croix Valley,” irregardless of which side of the border people live on.
He said the “special and unique” relationship between the two communities is “something we take for granted as citizens of a border town.”
Ames said the handshake to kick off the festival was symbolic of not only the longstanding friendship, but of the family feeling which encompasses the two communities.
“I hope it’s something that lives on, and I have every faith it will.
I hope that it gets even stronger, and there’s no reason why it can’t.”
New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig also attended the ceremony, and noted the “historically strong relationship between Canada and the United States.”
She said the handshake is testament to a much larger picture globally, and locally is a testament to friendship.
Howard noted the brief snafu the two committees ran into while trying to finalize Saturday’s parade. Because there are only a few members on each of the organizing committees, the workload regarding necessary paperwork for the parade to cross the border was in jeopardy of not being completed in time.
However MacEachern and Calais City Manager Jim Porter stepped in to assist, as did Kristina White, a former committee member who organized past parades.
Howard said “it’s a shame” about the paperwork needed at the border “but it is what it is.”
“It’s today’s world and we’ve got to live with it.”
He noted he liked to see the festival “get back to the roots of it” in terms of activities and
events, noting there have been changes “from what it originally started out as.”
“You want to have a lot of stuff for everybody. You can have children’s games and fun, but have to have something for the adults too. Somehow we got away from that.”
He suggested the committees continue to focus on creating more events for the festival.
Saturday is a big day for the festival, and kicks off with a Cow Patti Bingo at 7 a.m. Eastern, at the St. Croix Masonic Hall in Calais.
At 12 noon Eastern (1 p.m. Atlantic) the annual parade will wind its way from the Border Area Community Arena in St. Stephen, down King Street, along Union and down Hawthorne Street before crossing over the bridge and into Calais, concluding on Calais Avenue.
In St. Stephen, there will be a steel band concert at the David Alison Ganong Chocolate Park from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
At 3 p.m. Eastern there will be a skateboarding and BMX bike competition at the Calais Skatepark, open to all ages.
Sunday, a fireworks display beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern (9:30 p.m. Atlantic) will close this year’s festival activities.