I have had the good fortune to visit Canada many, many times. It’s a country with contradictions and contrasts that would be far too numerous to lay out for this piece. Most of these contrasts have to do with our cultural differences — differences to be celebrated. I love that you can cross the border in just a few hours and discover a whole new land; a land vastly different from our own. Road signs, gas stations, culinary delights, and the people.
Quebec is French. The geography resembles France, the natives speak French and the food is French. Fortunately, a wonderful friendship exists between our two countries. The border reminds you that you are leaving home and entering a place where the culture is richly unique. I realize as I write this, that not all individuals share my enthusiasm about differences. Some prefer the familiar, finding comfort in a world of sameness. I crossed the Canadian border north of Jackman, Maine this week with a group of seven other individuals; we were seeking something different and new.. The group was from Somerset County; the purpose of the trip was to create opportunities to celebrate both the beauty and bounty of Maine and the wonder of Quebec. The group traveled to Canada by way of the Old Canada Road.
The Old Canada Road Scenic Byway takes you to the Canadian border. The road begins in Solon, Maine, Somerset County, and extends nearly 78 miles to the border. Along the way we saw some small towns, restaurants, and beautiful stretches of nature. There are moose crossing warning signs almost the entire distance from Maine to Quebec. Although we were hoping to see one or more of these beautiful animals, we were also aware of the danger they represent. As we traveled north I wondered how many Mainers have never been north of Bar Harbor. Several of those in my carpool have traveled the Old Canada Road and they were giddy with excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead.
They included Amber Lambke, president of the Somerset Grist Mill, LLC; Mary Burr, owner of Blue Ribbon Farm; Jon Kimball, chair of Somerset Cultural Planning Committee and resident producer for SenovvA, Inc.; Pam and Jeff Powers, owners of Bigelow Brewery in Skowhegan; and David James, a retired marketing director and fundraiser for nonprofit groups. Each of these individuals has a personal stake in identifying touring opportunities between Quebec and Maine that celebrate the North American francophone heritage and its influence in Maine, especially as it is reflected in food, music, industry and the history of our two communities. I was there to document this important exchange.
Three days offered little time for discovery; however, we were pleased to begin the process. Significant players on the Canadian side were thrilled to meet with us and welcomed us with warmth and sincerity. Our agenda was forwarded several weeks before our arrival. It was clear to us that our Canadian friends were prepared and open to a discussion of what the future might hold. The first stop was on Monday, Sept. 12, at St. Méthode, a large production bread boulangerie in Adstock. They provided a detailed presentation and gave us an extensive tour of their facilities. Our second stop on Tuesday was to be a quick breakfast with Yves Simard, owner of Paillard, a café and boulangerie in Quebec City. Four hours later we had learned a great deal about their business and toured their baking facility outside of town. The owners were so pleased to have us visit, they even made us dinner reservations. This was pretty much the kind of hospitality we enjoyed for the entire trip. We visited several breweries in the Quebec province; La Barberie and Frampton Brasse were two of the standout stops — both excited about the idea of a joint brewfest or an event like it. Our last bakery was La Boîte à Pain, an impressive artisanal boulangerie with four shops in Quebec. We were once again wowed by the high level of interest in collaborating. There were several other visits; however, it is my intention to highlight a few.
The takeaway is simple and clear: Canadian businesses are anxious to work with U.S. businesses to create tourism opportunities. Showing off the best of both countries would not only benefit Mainers, out-of-state tourists, and Canadians, but it can also be the start of multicultural events that would keep dollars local on both sides of the border.