St. Croix 2004 Debrief

By Juliana L’Heureux

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There are rumblings in the Calais area of Maine about the low numbers who showed up for the St. Croix 2004 celebrations. In case you didn't notice, Maine and Canada's French-Canadian heritage celebrated an historic 400 year milestone on June 25-July 4th in Calais-St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Apparently, the anticipated numbers of people just didn't materialize. Although rain contributed to some dampening of celebration spirits, the low attendance cannot be blamed entirely on the weather.

For six plus years an international committee worked to develop a program intended to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the eastern areas of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes to celebrate the French settlement on tiny St. Croix Island.

Unfortunately, most history books tend to overlook the settlement on St. Croix Island, which survived for a few months in 1604-05, founded by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain and the business entrepreneur Sieur de Monts. Although it was nixed by severe winter weather, the French had high expectations for the colony and even sent pre-fabricated houses with the settlers to build a community.

Canadians recognize St. Croix Island as their first colony. New Brunswick, Canada's representative to the Canadian Parliament, Gregory Thompson, 56, says, "St. Croix Island is like our Canadian Plymouth Rock".

Yet, a time traveler who jumps ahead to the year 2020, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, would probably witness a terrific party.

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, in Massachusetts, will be an event to remember. There will probably be live media coverage of the future celebrations, international news coverage and re-enactments held throughout the world of the Pilgrims meeting with the local Native Americans in Massachusetts.

"We cannot help wondering what happened to the huge celebration we thought was scheduled in Calais-St. Stephen?," says Ferguson Calder, editor of the weekly newspaper "Calais Advertiser". "I served on the Calais City Council when the projections were given to us about the area being flooded with people for the St. Croix anniversary. But the events didn't meet the hype," he said in a telephone interview.

Particularly worrisome is the future of the newly opened Downeast Heritage Center museum and Red Beach International Park off Route 1. "If projected numbers of people were so far off for the anniversary celebrations, then we're wondering what will happen to the expected numbers of visitors to the Downeast Heritage Center and park?," asks Ferguson.

Ferguson wants to see more information for the public to learn about the Calais-St. Stephen areas.

Better publicity and visible signs explaining the area exhibits would introduce visitors to historic sites, especially the Downeast Heritage Center in downtown Calais.

In fact, the Downeast Heritage Center is worth a trip to Calais. An exhibit on Maine's fishing culture and the now closed sardine manufacturing plants are on the first floor. Native American exhibits depicting the culture of the Passamoquoddy Tribes at the time when St. Croix Island was settled in 1604 are displayed on the lower floor. St. Croix Island and French history is displayed on the museum's third floor, including a short interview with a talking exhibit of Sieur de Monts, the founder of the first failed French colony. A walking path and park adjacent to the St. Croix River is visible from all the magnificent windows in the Downeast Heritage Center. Although the 2004 French celebrations are past, the colonial history of the area is nicely displayed. In other words, it's not too late to increase the numbers of Franco-American tourists to beautiful Downeast Maine.

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Copyright 2004, Juliana L'Heureux