Hosting the 2014 World Acadian Congress in Maine

Strategy: Collaborate in New Ways, Enhance Your Product, Leverage Anniversaries

Type of attraction: Main Street/Community

Summary: What does a community do when its economy is shrinking and young people are leaving in search of jobs? Does the community lose its cultural identity? Do the people who leave forget their heritage?

What does a community do when its economy is shrinking and young people are leaving in search of jobs? Does the community lose its cultural identity? Do the people who leave forget their heritage? These consequences had concerned Acadian residents of Maine’s St. Johns Valley for some time, perhaps increasing with the economic recession of recent years.

“How do we create our own economic survival?” asks Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. “We want a sustainable economy in a rural setting based on our Acadian culture.”

That goal got a tremendous boost in 2009 when the St. Johns Valley – in an international partnership with neighboring New Brunswick and Québec in Canada – was selected to host the 2014 World Acadian Congress. This will be the 5th Congress reuniting Acadians from all parts of the world. The first was held in the Moncton, New Brunswick in 1994, the second one in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1999, the third one in Nova Scotia in 2004, and the fourth in 2009 in Northeastern New Brunswick. 

 “The selection is made by the Acadian National Society, which is headquartered in Moncton, New Brunswick,” says Jason Parent, executive director. “It is a strenuous competitive process. We prepared a video depicting our region, in addition to a 150-page brief.  The SNA sent a visiting jury of three persons from Paris, France, western Canada and Nova Scotia. The jury realized the importance of hosting it in this international region. We are the forgotten Acadian people, but we have deep historical roots that are alive here.”

The three-week event is expected to bring at least 50,000 visitors to enjoy more than 400 events being planned in communities throughout the region.

Most important, “We will tell the story of how we came to be,” says Parent. “The three locations will be presenting the story of how historically we were one people.”

And what a story it is – in particular the pivotal mid-18th century “Le Grand Dérangement,” when French Acadians were expelled from the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for not swearing unconditional allegiance to England during the French and Indian War. Many made their way to Québec, Maine and Louisiana, bringing their unique culture including food, language, music and other traditions.

Louise Martin, manager of the Maine Acadian Heritage Council, notes: “I grew up in a French-Acadian culture. I didn’t realize what I had – the language, foods and traditions, the strong sense of community – until I left the area. When I came back I realized what we have here is so strong. It’s still alive and kicking, and we need to keep it alive and hand it down to the youth.”

To that end, a regional advisory committee and numerous partners are hard at work planning for the 2014 World Acadian Congress. Support from throughout the region has been excellent with each community committing funding based on a dollar per capita calculation.

The “backbone” of the event will be more than 100 Acadian family reunions with up to 1,400 attendees expected at each reunion for that reason alone. “We are mobilizing our communities,” says Parent. “There are 16 municipalities on the Maine side and overall there are 50 communities involved in the three areas in the U.S. and Canada.  They are going to evenly share the load in hosting the family reunions.”

Additional events range from the opening ceremony in New Brunswick, the celebration of the international feast day of Acadians, August 15, 2014, with major concerts and a Tintamarre in the St. Johns Valley and a closing ceremony in Québec, the annual Acadian Festival of Madawaska, local talent shows, a muskie fishing derby, and academic conferences including a Woman’s Summit and a Youth Summit. Events will be scheduled to allow visitors to travel from one to the other to enjoy the many different facets of the Congress. Events that are regularly held in the region, such as the Ployes Festival held annually in Fort Kent to celebrate the Acadian buckwheat pancake, will be incorporated into the Congress’ schedule.    

Key components are designed to be educational. Pelletier explains, “We will bring together economists, sociologists and others to talk about the Diaspora of Acadia and to talk about future of Acadian people. One reason we wanted it (the Congress) so much is that we are losing the French language and what it means to be Acadian. Bringing together Acadians of the Diaspora will bring a renewed sense of pride to our people and provide the impetus to do something about it.”

Organizers are quick to note that the Congress is open to anyone – not just Acadians. “In the coming years we will be doing a lot of marketing to reach Franco-American populations and get them excited about coming, and we also want to reach Maine vacationers,” Parent says.

“We are constructing a new identity for Acadia. Through our collaboration, we hope to create an international tourist destination that encompasses the three regions,” Martin says. “The slogan of the 2014 World Acadian Congress is: ‘An Acadia of the world, an Acadia for the people: a new Acadia!’ We plan to make it happen!”

For more information, contact the Maine Acadian Heritage Council at maineacadian@hotmail.com; 207-728-6826.