CHAMPLAIN - The new year is here, and with it comes a celebration like no other - the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's exploration of the North Country.
Celine R. Paquette, vice chairperson of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, said events surrounding the celebration of Champlain's arrival in North America are taking shape.
"We have a lot of events planned, some of which are still in the making," said Paquette. "Here in the Champlain Valley, Hill and Hollow Music has already begun their Vive la France concert series and in Rouses Point, their annual Fete de Danse this summer will honor Champlain. The communities are doing a lot."
In the village of Champlain, a formal dedication this summer is planned for a history center Paquette has established on Elm Street. The village will also rededicate its statue of Samuel de Champlain at St. Mary's Church on Church Street.
"It's the first one of Champlain in the U.S.," Paquette noted.
Other celebrations in the town of Champlain include reinstalling a historical marker at Point Au Fer that was originally posted by members of the local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. Another marker is expected to be installed at a former military post at Point Au Fer which is commonly referred to as "the White House." The house has been credited as having been an important post during the American Revolution.
Mini-grants from the quadricentennial commission are helping to make several events and projects possible, including developing hiking and cross-country skiing trails in central Champlain Valley to link communities of Westport, Essex, Willsboro, Lewis and Elizabethtown. Grants have also been awarded to Ticonderoga Elementary School to participate in a project that will commemorate 400 years of history of the Ticonderoga area and to the Plattsburgh Public Library to create programs based on the quadricentennial.
"Those mini-grants have been very, very helpful," said Paquette.
What has pulled together events for the North Country's celebration of the quadricentennial has been the support of "chairmen" in communities across the region. In the city of Plattsburgh, for instance, chairman Jen LaFontaine is working on incorporating a Samuel de Champlain theme into the city's annual Mayor's Cup celebration, said Paquette. There, the city plans to also rededicated its Champlain monument.
The events will all lead up to a Sept. 19 celebration in Crown Point, which will see the rededication of the Samuel de Champlain monument there. That event has involved significant planning, said Paquette, and will be considered the year's signature event honoring the French explorer. It will include performances by the United States Merchant Marine Academy Band from Great Neck, Long Island, interpretive historical performances and speeches from several political dignitaries.
The governors of Vermont and New York will be among those on the guest list, with an invitation also expected to be sent to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"If we can't get Sarkozy, we'll try the French ambassador, and certainly the New York and Boston consulates," said Paquette. The planning and arrangements for quadricentennial celebrations in the North Country have been demanding, but well worth it, said Paquette. Recently, she received a call from someone in the Catskills who was interested in learning more about Samuel de Champlain and was asked to have a presentation about the historical figure.
"That's not so bad, except going to the Catskills would be a two-day trip," Paquette said, factoring in planning, traveling time and making the formal presentation. "One night, I gave a talk in Willsboro and 10 people showed up. It made for a long trip and evening, but it's good because if you can reach 10, then maybe they'll spread it to 10 more. If I'm asked to speak, I don't say no."
In order to get the word out about the year's celebrations, a Web site has been established at www.discoverlakechamplain400.org. The Web site, said Paquette, was created by Colin Read, former dean of the School of Business and Economics at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. The idea behind the site is to provide the public with the latest information on quadricentennial events and an ever-growing list of points of contact for local events.
"If you want to get involved in your community, you can go to the Web site and look for your community contact person," said Paquette.
One of the next major events that will involve a discussion on the quadricentennial will be The Conference on New York State History, said Paquette. The conference will be hosted by the New York State Historical Association at SUNY Plattsburgh June 4-6. There, David Hackett Fisher, author of Champlain's Dream, a biography of Samuel de Champlain, will serve as the keynote speaker. During the conference, a preview of Dead Reckoning: Champlain in America, a documentary by Mountain Lake PBS, will be shown, she added.
"It's been slow spreading, but there's been a lot of interest [in the quadricentennial]," said Paquette. "I think we're doing very, very well."