International Festival Gains Momentum

By Lura Jackson

 

The second meeting of the newly-reformed International Homecoming Festival Committee yielded promising news that will serve to promote and enrich this year’s festival. The event will be receiving television promotion from ABC Channel 7, and the parade will be boosted by the addition of up to 25 Anah units, which will be joined by their Luxor brethren. Aside from sharing the good news, the committee tackled various scheduling and event planning topics.

Channel 7’s Craig Colson will be conducting interviews with members of the committee soon to begin promotion of the event. Co-chair Roxanne Redding said that every year the channel features a community somewhere in the state, and the Calais region was picked this year with the festival as the major highlight. Colson and his team will be coming down “well in advance” to promote the festival, Redding said, visiting local restaurants and noteworthy locations.

The Anah Shrine of Bangor also recently contacted the city to request its permission to participate in the parade and to hold a Field Day in the area that will include a barbecue – though it is not yet clear if the barbecue will be open to the public. The Anah Shrine will be bringing between 20-25 units for the parade.

Emphasis on ‘International’

The committee widely agreed that the international theme of the festival needed to be emphasized throughout the event. Co-chair Alex Reid said that the kickoff event – Hands Across the Border – represented “the entire heart of the festival” and as such it should incorporate as many as possible of the various groups in the region, particularly “borderless groups” such as the Rotary. Theresa Porter suggested that there should be a mix and mingle before the event to let the people of the two municipalities interact with each other socially. The mix and mingle would be an outdoor barbecue event held on either side of the border, with more details to be confirmed as August approaches.

Richard Auletta proposed the addition of “lots of flags” on both sides, including flags lining the streets and flags in the hands of participants. Jason Carr agreed, though he said that there should be a notice in the respective community calendars of the local newspapers to let citizens know where and when they can come and pick up their flags. One possibility is that the flags will be available at the barbecue event, enabling attendees to pick up their flags and carry them to the bridge together.

The barbecue is tentatively planned for 5:30 EST, with the handshake pushed back to 6:30 EST. In the past, the handshake has taken place at 5:30, but the committee suggested that its timing was the reason for low attendance. By having it later, the committee hopes that more people in the community will be able to come.

Regarding beer gardens, Reid shared that in past years there were designated international beer gardens held at one spot on either side of the river. From his experience in the industry, he said that Fridays are busier in St. Stephen while Saturdays are busier in Calais, and he thus proposed scheduling and promoting the events appropriately. Jim Porter expressed that other beer gardens would likely still be held. Reid said that in the interest of “cooperation, not competition”, it may serve the businesses and the community if they were to pool their funds to get a better band, hold the event in a neutral location, and split the profits. Reid and Carr agreed that if the pitch was made correctly then having larger “international” beer gardens – one in St. Stephen on Friday and one in Calais on Saturday – may be a possibility.

Other options for international opportunities include an international music concert, a cross-river tug of war between various matching entities, such as law enforcement departments, border officers, or city councils, and a third is to coordinate a fireman’s muster between the fire departments. The committee will be looking for organizations within the community to help hold these events.

Parades

The International Parade is the signature event of the festival, which made it particularly discouraging last year when it was nearly cancelled at the last minute. This year’s parade is already taking shape – and not just because of the inclusion of the Anah units.

The committee agreed that this year’s parade will start on the Calais side and travel to St. Stephen as it ran in the opposite direction last year. Efforts are underway to establish key personnel that will assist with the border crossing to prevent any difficulties in that regard. Jim Porter recommended that the parade needs to have more music, which will require approximately $1,000 per professional band that participates.

In addition to the grand Saturday parade, Redding proposed holding an international children’s parade that would give area youth the opportunity to dress up, decorate their bicycles and carriages, and display their community spirit. While she acknowledged that there has been a non-international children’s parade in the past in Calais, she noted that it was usually away from the Main Street and thus did not attract much attention.

Redding also mentioned the potential of a calathumpian parade, noting that they had been held in Calais in the past. Calathumpian parades are generally open to everyone and include lots of noise and unusual outfits.

Past and Potential Events

The committee affirmed its desire to see the return of several regularly-scheduled events for this year’s festival, including the children’s games along the St. Stephen waterfront, the kids’ street dance in Calais, the street fair, the cemetery tour, and Chair Affair. Regarding the Chair Affair in particular, Laurel Perkins said that the Calais Downtown Revitalization Coalition wished to return to its earlier time slot to enable better attendance this year. Many of the events are put on by groups or organizations within the respective communities, and the committee agreed that it would begin contacting the relevant groups to verify that they are still interested for this year.

Previously-held events that the committee is considering bringing back include a raft race on the St. Croix River and a rubber ducky race or ball bounce. Jim Porter noted that some of those who previously participated in the raft race are no longer with us, while the rubber ducky race was challenged as a volunteer-intensive activity. The ball bounce requires fewer volunteers and thus has a better chance of being planned at this point.

Budget and Fundraising

Fundraising will be underway shortly for the International Festival, with the committee agreeing that they will be distributing letters to area organizations requesting support – potentially with the assistance of Calais JMG students – and that they will begin publicly accepting donations as soon as possible.

Per Laurel Perkins, the cost of putting on the festival just on the Calais side is about $8,500-$9,000 each year, not including the fireworks (which are typically donated by Hardwicke’s). Calais currently has about $3,300 in reserve. On the Canadian side, Reid said that approximately $1,400 is available for use. Carr said that most of the Canadian budget goes toward the parade.

The first fundraising event for the festival will be a road toll in Calais on Saturday, June 16th. Sixteen volunteers are requested to assist with the road toll for an hour each, which would leave two volunteers in the booth at all times. According to Jim Porter, the road tolls generate between $1,000 and $1,200.

Future funding may be sought from grants and state/provincial tourism programs, but the timing may be too tight this year to apply.

If you would like to offer assistance with hosting an event, to volunteer in general, or to make a donation, send an e-mail to either Jim Porter at manager@calaismaine.org or Alex Reid at areid@town.ststephen.nb.ca. The official e-mail and website for the International Homecoming Festival will be established soon.