Border stories: St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Maine

They consider themselves one community that happens to share a border and each year they honour this incredible relationship with a homecoming festival. The Canadian and U.S. co-chairs of the festival give a glimpse into why this celebration is so important and why they haven't let 9/11 affect the relationship between the two towns.

There's an anecdote about their shared history that most St.Stephen, N.B., or Calais, Maine, residents will happily tell you. And rightly so, since there's no better way to sum up the remarkable relationship these two communities have.

"During the war of 1812 we ran out of gunpowder for the fourth of July. Calais asked St.Stephen and St. Stephen let us borrow their gunpowder so we could have fireworks that year," boasts Calais resident Chris Bernardini.

These two towns, separated by the St. Croix river, also share skating rinks, fire stations and emergency services.

"There are a lot of things we do together. If they need assistance, Calais is more than helpful to run across the border and help out. If something happens in Calais, St.Stephen is second on the scene," Bernardini mentions.

"We don't even think about there being a border really," he states.

St. Stephen resident Linda LaFrance agrees.

"We never gave it any thought to it being the United States, we just call it going over the river. You could literally spit across the border it's that close, " she laughs.

The close-knit communities did, however, struggle with that border in the days following Sept., 11, 2001, as travel between Canada and the U.S. came to a halt.

"It was difficult to be cut off from St.Stephen," remembers Bernardini.

"The biggest change was at the border itself. Our friendly customs officers suddenly had a strict routine to go by. We had to show our birth certificates. We were opening our trunks. Life as we knew it in our small town changed dramatically," agrees LaFrance.

But the tenacious residents of both St. Stephen and Calais would not allow this event to tamper with a relationship that has defied politics, war and geography.

"You have to remember to bring your I.D. now but things went back to being normal and busy. Everybody still goes back and forth," LaFrance says.

In celebration of this unique bond, St. Stephen and Calais hold a festival each year that brings together people from both sides of the border. LaFrance and Bernardini are its co-chairs.

"It's just a large neighbourhood party," LaFrance exclaims.

"It brings people together. I don't know of another border festival," echos Bernardini.

"You know, we had to pick a theme for the next festival after 2001," recalls LaFrance, "and our theme that year was 'Two Countries: One Heart.'"