Handshakes and hugs have returned to kick off a summer tradition between two communities on the New Brunswick-Maine border.
The 2022 International Homecoming Festival began on Wednesday evening, with a procession of people from Canada and the United States converging together on the Ferry Point Bridge between St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, ME.
Residents from both communities gathered at the bridge’s international boundary line to sing their national anthems and exchange flags from both countries.
A key part of the event marked the return of the traditional handshake between the mayors of St. Stephen and Calais, officially starting the festival.
“I haven’t shook hands with this man beside me here for a few years,” said St. Stephen mayor Allan MacEachern, alongside Calais mayor Billy Howard.
“I haven’t seen you for two years,” said Howard to MacEachern.
The international handshake has been part of the festival’s traditional kickoff since 1974, but wasn’t scheduled in 2020 or 2021 due to pandemic measures.
While several parts of the International Homecoming Festival are returning this year, the extended parade spanning the downtown streets of both communities has once again been sidelined due to COVID-19 land border restrictions.
At Wednesday’s event, Canadian residents were warned not to venture beyond the international boundary line without having their ArriveCan information submitted.
With an overall loosening of border restrictions, local residents were pleased to see the festival return in some form.
“You get to be part of two countries,” said St. Stephen resident Lori Andersen. “It’s great and it’s fabulous, especially with the border being open again.”
A group of tourists from the southeastern U.S. learned about the event while travelling and made it a point to attend.
“It was extremely emotional and I loved every moment of the connection of two countries, so close together,” said Jennifer Leblond, from Virginia Beach, VA.
The unique relationship between St. Stephen and Calais has long been renowned amongst border communities, from family connections to mutual emergency responses.
The 2022 International Festivals continues with events on both sides of the border until Sunday.
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