A gentle October breeze has brought not only unseasonably warm weather but also some distinguished visitors from across the Atlantic to the shores of Lake Champlain.
At midday on October 10, above Splash at the Burlington Boathouse, a ceremonial gathering welcomed Mayor Michel Lamarre of Honfleur, France, and a party of twelve citizens representing several Honfleur industries. “It’s one thing to talk about the sister city of Burlington, but I want the people of Honfleur to really see Burlington,” said Lamarre.
The ceremony was organized by Sister City Committee chair and president Lise Veronneau. It commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Burlington-Honfleur Sister City partnership, which began in 2009 under the leadership of former Burlington mayor Bob Kiss.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger greeted Lamarre and his delegation and strongly emphasized the importance of maintaining strong ties between Burlington and Honfleur. “At a time of national and global dissidence, it is more important than ever to forge bonds like these,” said Weinberger.
Honfleur holds its own in the tourism industry: it is the sixth most visited city in France, bringing in over 3.5 million visitors per year. The old port town located on the southern bank of the Seine once inspired artists Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet, among several others: her chromatic waterfront architecture appears in droves of Impressionist works. The Norman city contains a well-preserved treasury of rich history and culture, as her grounds were protected from the ravages of the Second World War.
Just over four hundred years after French explorer Samuel de Champlain set sail from Honfleur on the Don de Dieu on a trajectory for the Americas, the ties between France and the U.S. remain ironclad. “France and the U.S. have a very long, old history, and I think it is important to keep that relationship strong,” said Lamarre. “I want people to mix, especially young people. I want young people from France and from the U.S. to meet and form professional relationships for the future.”
In part, the Sister City partnership’s goal of promoting relationships among young people has been realized. In 2014, a Burlington Boy Scout troop made its way to visit Honfleur. They were followed there not long after in the summer of 2017 by two students from Champlain College who collaborated with students from four other countries to make a video about Honfleur.
Honfleur is set to inaugurate several new startup businesses next month and is on track to becoming a site for ecologically friendly development. “I want Honfleur to be a place that attracts people because of job opportunities and quality of life,” said Lamarre.
One representative from the tourism industry in Honfleur, Frederic Lecomte, said he was eager to discover the way of life in Burlington during his visit. “Vermont is important to us in building the relationship with Honfleur,” said Lecomte. “The presence of the French language will accommodate francophone visitors and be a good place for short stays and holidays. We see Burlington as a laboratory for new experiences.”
In 2015, Weinberger and his family had the opportunity to visit Honfleur. In his formal welcome to Lamarre, he discussed his experience there, recalling the generosity, hospitality, and respect he encountered. “Something I’ll always remember from that trip was seeing the way many are committed to tending to the graves of American soldiers who died there,” said Weinberger. “I came away with the sense that many of the people in Honfleur and Normandy are more aware and more respectful of the sacrifices that prior generations of Americans have made than we are ourselves, and I’ve tried to channel that sentiment in the ceremonies held in Burlington ever since.”
Since the Sister City partnership began, Burlington has been making the effort to become more accommodative to French language and culture. The International French Flag Raising Ceremony, held annually in March, has been a fixture in Burlington’s repertoire since 2013, supported and attended by Vermont governors. In 2016 a Quebec-Friendly Business Seminar was held to promote the French language in Burlington businesses, and the Alliance Française has increased its presence in the Church Street Marketplace with its francophone welcome service.
When addressing those in attendance at the welcome ceremony, Lamarre joked, “My dream was to have a sister city with New York City.” Now Lamarre said that he couldn’t wait to visit Burlington again. “I want to be free to see everything,” he said. “The museums, the food, the people. Everything.”
Written by Emily Engott
Addendum: itinerary of the visit, October 7-14, 2017
After an An opening reception hosted by the president of Champlain College, the program included:
Ethan Allen Homestead visit
Edible History tour of Burlington
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum visit, with boat tour in the lake
ECHO Science Center visit
Intervale Center and Community Farm tour
St. Michael’s College visit, including lecture
Shelburne Museum visit, including lunch and a tour
Shelburne Farms visit, with a cocktail reception at the Inn
Land and Local art exhibition in the Coach Barn
Burlington farmers market in City Hall Park