FORT KENT - After 20 years of service to the community associated with the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races, and a good part of that time spent as race director, Rita Cannan is handing the Crown to Beurmond Banville.
Cannan is enthusiastic about the transition.
"[Beurmond] is so much in tune with the Can-Am, it's going to be easy," she said, but cautioned that the transition is not going to take a matter of days, weeks, or possibly even months.
It may take a year or more to complete the shift. Cannan said that she's accumulated a lot of information over the past twenty years and that passing all of it on will take time, especially since so much of the details are kept in her head.
Banville isn't worried. He said, "I know her phone number and I know where she lives."
Cannan said Beurmond was her first choice from the first moment she considered retiring from her position as race director.
Self-employment was an important characteristic Cannan was seeking in the person to replace her. Most of the current board members are young and have full-time jobs, said Cannan, which leaves them with weekends and evenings to work on the races. Being race director is essentially a full-time job, she said, and even includes preparation during the summer. Banville is recently retired, which means his time is "more or less his own," said Cannan.
Besides his many years writing about the Can-Am for the Bangor Daily New, Banville has many assets to help him succeed as race director. He is a good speaker, very knowledgeable in many fields, familiar with the Can-Am organization and almost every position as a volunteer, and is friends with many board members.
"The Can-Am has always been close to my heart. To me it was a natural move to attempt this," said Banville who has been involved with the races for 18 of its 20 years.
Cannan said, "The Board is very happy that [Beurmond] accepted."
Banville praised the 15 board members, saying that all were hard, reliable workers, many of whom also perform two or three jobs for the races.
"If someone takes on a job, you don't have to worry, it gets done." He added, "We have board members that have their heart and soul into this."
Both Cannan and Banville complimented the efforts of the 400 to 500 volunteers involved in making the Can-Am races a success, from race marshal John Pelletier and his daughter Miaja, to Stan Flagg, Fran Labrie, Andre Landry and Dave Hartt, to mention only a few of the locals. Some volunteers come from as far away as Alaska. Others, who have been involved with the races for many years, but who find themselves unable to attend, will call race organizers to let them know and to ask for their spot to be saved for the following year. The volunteers range in age from fifteen-years-old to those in their seventh decade, said Banville.
"It's quite rewarding to work on the Can-Am," said Cannan. "And the volunteers have fun. [They] don't find it a job."
Although every year brings minor changes and improvements to the race, such as a newly implemented debriefing session after the races between the mushers and the board members, Banville said he has no plans to implement any changes.
"You don't change success. The race is successful. The race is professional. There's no reason to make any major changes."
The race has certainly changed, however, from its inception in the former Fort Kent eatery Edna and Camille's during a conversation between Cannan, who was then the Chamber vice-president, and a young man looking for a summer job organizing a dogsled race that would start in Fort Kent and end in Houlton.
Cannan's original responsibility on the Can-Am board was primarily to make certain that participants followed the rules and by-laws of the race. She became race director after John Kaleta resigned, saying she'd do it for a year.
"The rest is history," Cannan said. "I grew with [the race]."
Pelletier Ford will be a new sponsor for this year's Can-Am Crown.
Although Banville will be taking over as race director, the board is still looking for someone who has been involved with the races for years to take on the responsibility of securing the sponsorship, and for someone to do the publicity and advertising for the race.
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