Burlington, Vermont officials officially welcomed a delegation from its French sister city on Tuesday. This is the second official visit to Vermont since the sister city agreement was formalized 2012.
Honfleur is located in the Normandy region of northern France on the banks of the Seine as it flows into the English Channel. It is the port from which Samuel de Champlain set sail to the New World, eventually founding Quebec City discovering Lake Champlain.
During the quadricentennial of Champlain’s discovery of the lake, then-Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss approached Honfleur officials. "In 2009 I had been to Yuroslavl and we were able to drive to Honfleur and meet with Mayor Lamarre. And I think that was the, helped cement the idea that we should work together. And Mayor Lamarre did come to the U.S. and now the rest is history."
Former St. Michael’s College President Marc vanderHeyden believes Champlain’s connection between Burlington and Honfleur is unique and is the foundation for the sister city relationship. "Champlain came to the New World from Honfleur. And the idea had really come from Mayor Kiss. So because of the initiative and the enthusiasm of Burlington City Arts and then the support of the current mayor and in particular because Honfleur responded so enthusiastically that’s why we have this now going on."
While there was an interpreter available, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger did his best to welcome the Honfleur delegation in French. “Burlington est tres honoree des sommes partenaires d'Honfleur pour renforcer nos liens d'amitié et le respect entre nos deux villes et pour souligner l'importance a bâtirdes des relations de confiance et d'amitié transculturelles."
Mayor Michel Lamarre: "Oh lala."
Woman: "In English!?"
Weinberger: "We’re honored to have our partners from Honfleur here in furthering our bonds of friendship and the respect between our two cities and in emphasizing the importance of building relationships of cross-cultural trust and friendship. The sister city relationship provides us an important opportunity to build on the historic bonds that bind our two cities and deepen the cultural ties between us.”
This is the second time Honfleur Mayor Michel Lamarre has led a delegation to Burlington. He says there are a number of similarities between the two cities.
Richard Gliech translates. "So ah the cities they have a lot of similarities. One being they’re on the ocean, we’re on the lake. So water plays an important role. Both cities have a historical importance in their own history. Culture is very much valued and very very present in both cities. As well as durable development and ecology that ah sense of responsibility for future generations that is really shared by both cities."
Burlington’s mayor visited Honfleur in 2015. While there he cut a ribbon at Honfleur’s new Burlington Square on the rue du Vermont. Weinberger was also able to visit the nearby memorials to the Normandy invasion. "What I think I will always remember most about that trip is that our host family drove us along the coast of Normandy and I got to visit Omaha Beach for the first time. It’s a very moving experience. And then even more moving for me, given my family history was, they took us to a village called Arromanches. And I’m fairly certain that my grandfather was one of those people who landed in Arromanches about a month after D-Day and then went on from there up into Paris where he was involved in the liberation of that city. And you know he was very reluctant to speak about his military service and I don’t know very much about it. It was very moving for me to stand there on those shores and think about him. And I thought you know my grandfather would have been pretty proud of the notion that his grandson could have come back to this beach as a mayor at a time of peace. It was a powerful experience."
Weinberger says there are already a number of cross-cultural activities occurring and he hopes the relationship with Honfleur continues to expand. "Visitors from Honfleur here and Burlingtonians who go there can go into museums for free and we continue to build on those exchanges. We’ve already had some boy scouts and high school kids make the trip. I’m excited to keep working with Mayor Lamarre. It’s become a great relationship."
While in Burlington, the Honfleur delegation will visit art exhibitions, the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne Farms and the Ethan Allen Homestead.