In 1609 the French navigator and geographer Samuel de Champlain, on one of his numerous trips between the harbor city of Honfleur, France and New France (now the Province of Quebec), became the first European to set eyes on what is now Lake Champlain, finding it so beautiful that he gave it his name.
Fast-forward to 2009. As the four-hundredth anniversary of the illustrious explorer’s visit drew near, the City of Burlington, perched on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, set out to commemorate the Champlain Quadricentennial.
To kick it off, Doreen Kraft, executive director of Burlington City Arts, was eager to organize a voyage from Burlington to the places in France where Champlain had lived. To put it together, she turned to Dana and Marc vanderHeyden at St. Michael’s College, who for some years had been leading an annual “French Heritage” trip to France, for members of the St. Mike’s community.
Kraft asked the vanderHeydens to help organize a Champlain Quadricentennial voyage for May 2009. They were interested, so in the summer of 2008 she and Marc traveled to France to visit Champlain-related places, including Honfleur. François Gauthier, France’s consul-general to New England, helped connect them to relevant places. As they traveled, they realized they could work out a trip.
Back home, when the group proposed the voyage to the office of Mayor Bob Kiss, he was supportive.The eleven-day voyage would be called “In Search of Samuel de Champlain’s France” and would depart on May 20, 2009.
Meanwhile Vermont lieutenant governor Brian Dubie also visited Honfleur, which was becoming ever more important for the Quad celebration as the starting point of the 1609 voyage. Honfleur officials would later refer to Dubie’s visit as the “germe de l’idée de rapprochement entre le Vermont et Honfleur, en particulier Burlington.”
As the Quad delegation’s departure date neared, Mayor Kiss let the members know that he was interested in exploring an official connection between Burlington and Honfleur, perhaps even a Sister City connection.
The delegation visited the various Champlain sites. On May 26, they arrived in Honfleur, where the city government invited the group to attend a reception at the Hôtel de Ville. As it got under way, Kraft handed Mayor Michel Lamarre a letter from Mayor Kiss. The letter announced that at that very moment, thousands of miles away, Burlington in its City Hall was celebrating “Honfleur Day.”
“Mayor Lamarre was stupefied,” Dana vanderHeyden recalled. “He said, ‘No place has ever proclaimed Honfleur Day! We need to stay connected.’” The Vermonters frankly told Mayor Lamarre that Mayor Kiss was interested in a Sister City connection.
Mayor Bob Kiss
On September 20, 2010, Mayor Kiss visited Honfleur personally, where he met with Mayor Lamarre. They discussed a partenariat or partnership between the two cities.