Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 7 : Winter 2011 - Page 44

An Abridged History: The Can-Am Crown Races by Stan Flagg In 1992, Ben Thomas approached some members of the Fort Kent Chamber of Commerce with the idea of organizing a sled dog race as a for-profit business. At the time, Ben was a teenager from Blanchard, Maine. He envisioned that the race would run a 100-mile course from Fort Kent, Maine, to Houlton, Maine. Since this plan went far beyond its bounds, the Fort Kent Chamber could not undertake the project. However, the members supported the idea of a non-profit sled dog race that would start and finish in Fort Kent. A race committee was then formed separate from the Chamber of Commerce, but with significant chamber input. Lisa Dumond, the then executive director of the chamber, became the first president of the Can-Am Crown board. The Can-Am Crown organization was founded on October 16, 1992, as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the State of Maine. It was established to provide a mid-distance sled dog race to a growing community of mushers from throughout the international region while striving to deliver a tangible economic benefit to the area and to enhance the region’s image as a travel destination. It has succeeded on all counts. The Can-Am Crown 250 has rapidly gained popularity as the longest sled dog race in the eastern United States. Fort Kent is located in the upper St. John River Valley on the international border between Maine and 42 The Can-Am Races WINTER 2011 New Brunswick. The upper St. John River Valley includes parts of Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec. For many natives, especially on the Canadian side, French is the primary language, but nearly everyone also speaks English. The region is the center of Acadian history and culture in the U.S. In the years since they began, the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races have seen a variety of conditions and circumstances that have challenged the contestants and organizers of these first-class events. On Tuesday, February 16, 1993, the first 250mile sled dog race ever held in the eastern United States began in Fort Kent. Nine teams from throughout Maine, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick competed for a share of the $10,000 purse, which was raised entirely through local contributions, many in small donations from individuals. The start was from Fort Kent Community High School, and the finish was at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge in Fort Kent. The race was about 280 miles long. (This was before the days when GPS devices became common.) The course ran south along Rte. 11, through Eagle Lake, St. Froid Lake, and Portage Lake before heading into the woods of southern Aroostook County and northern Piscataquis County. An estimated 500 spectators braved frigid temperatures to experience the excitement and applaud