Bangor Daily News
By Beurmond Banville
Saturday, June 26, 2004

Joie de Croix

The festival marking the 400th anniversary of the first French settlement in North America kicked off Friday evening in Calais with foot-stomping music, cheering, applause and international goodwill.

The music was a blend of French with some English tunes along with American Indian drumming and chanting. Scores of people waved drapeaus, tri-color Acadian Flags of blue, red, and white, and the town square was filled with several hundred people from Maine and New Brunswick.

It was a night "to let the good times roll," former state Sen. Judy Paradis, the U.S. patron of the celebrations, told the crowd.

The 10-day Ste. Croix 2004 Celebration commemorates the arrival of French explorers on St. Croix Island in 1604. The island is located in the middle of the St. Croix River between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Gray weather did not dampen spirits. The rain stayed away, and a warm wind banished the earlier chill.

Border traffic, back and forth, slowed Main Street traffic to a snail's pace around 5 p.m., just before the concert started.

People arrived early, some walking across the border. One man was spotted wearing a large Acadian flag over his shoulders while walking toward the town square.

Another woman walked around with a small Acadian flag as a neckerchief.

One man, who wouldn't give his real name, was dressed as explorer Samuel de Champlain and made balloon swords for children. The man, who said he was a seventh-generation Acadian, plans to do this all summer and into the fall, ending up at an Acadian Festival in Nova Scotia.

It was four centuries ago this month that French nobleman Pierre Dugay Sieur de Mons, cartographer Champlain and 79 men sailed up the St. Croix River establishing the first French colony, several years before the British established colonies at Jamestown, Va., and Plymouth, Mass., in 1607 and 1620 respectively.

They built a settlement and spent their first winter in the New World. The winter was harsh, and some 35 people, nearly half their garrison, lost their lives.

The next summer, the fort was dismantled and the entire expedition went to warmer climates near what is now Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

It was an evening of welcomes by the natives, Maine's governor, officials of the celebration and representatives of two communities who have opened themselves to the world for the next 10 days.

"Aquano [welcome], to our land," Passamaquoddy Chief Joseph Nicholas told the crowd in the town square. "Wol on [thank you] for coming. "We extended our hand 400 years ago, and we always extend our hand."

Nicholas said he was asked Friday afternoon by a Canadian reporter what he would have said had he been at the arrival of the first Frenchmen 400 years ago.

"There goes the neighborhood," was his reply to the reporter, he said.

"This celebration sends a strong message that culture and history are what we are today," Gov. John Baldacci said. "We are all in this together, and we are only separated by a river.

"It's important to note our native Americans who worked and helped the first of us who arrived," he said. "Theirs is a wonderful contribution."

Above all the music of the evening, a 9-year-old from Fort Kent, Melanie Nadeau-Saucier, stole the crowd with her renditions of the United States and Canadian national anthems, both in French and English.

The crowd roared and applauded in appreciation.

"That's very impressive," Richard Gay of Blue Hill said. "I have never heard the [American] national anthem sung in French."

"I feel great being here to sing the national anthems," Nadeau-Saucier said. "It's great representing the French and Acadians.

"I was invited by people who heard me at the State House," she said. "I also sang here last year."

Robert Sylvain of Portland also sang in French with the band Boreal Tordu.

"I am learning my French through music," he said after their performance. "Many of these songs are those I got from memere's notebook of Acadian songs.

"It's cool for me to be part of my heritage," he said. "I am trying to revive it because their [his ancestors] journeys were so special."

The celebration is one of pride for French people. "Ces't la fierte d'etre Acadien [It's our pride of being Acadian]," Giselle Little of Moncton, New Brunswick, said in French while the music was playing. "We are here, 20 in the family including some grandchildren, because we are Acadian.

"Even if I married an English [speaking] man, I am still Acadian," she said while pointing to the Acadian flag they had with them.

"We have awakened governments to the truth," Canadian Sen. Viola Legere, an Acadian author, told the crowd. "It all started right here.

"This is where two worlds met, Americans and Europeans, Amerindians and the French," she said in French and English. "This week the world's eyes are turned to the Island of St. Croix."

"C'est merviellieux [It's marvelous]," she said privately in an interview in French. "Everyone is understanding who they are, and this creates pride."

Today, the re-enactment of the first contact will be done on the island. Government officials from the United States, Canada, France and three American Indian tribes will take part in the ceremonies.

Officials expect 5,000 to 10,000 people Saturday afternoon at an entertainment showcase at Bayside, a Canadian National Park on the western shore of the St. Croix River.

The showcase will feature some of the best-known Acadian and French singers in Eastern Canada.

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