Canadian flag flies high at Hampton Beach
HAMPTON BEACH - Hampton Beach was recently rated one of the cleanest swimming beaches in the country. It also may be the most welcoming - if you're Canadian.
Four flagpoles at the new Seashell complex at Hampton Beach State Park prominently display the U.S. flag, the blue state flag, the black POW/MIA flag and the red-and-white flag of Canada.
And while the other two are flown noticeably lower than the American flag, as required by the U.S. Flag Code, the Maple Leaf flies nearly as high as the Stars and Stripes.
Officials have not heard any objections. Peter Burdett is chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from veterans services organizations. He said he's never heard any complaints about New Hampshire flying the flag of a foreign nation at the beach.
"This is a marketing thing," Burdett said. "We have a lot of Canadians that are coming to visit, and I think this is just paying some respect to the Canadian neighbors who are visiting, and we're recognizing them with a big old flag.
"It's not like we're going to fly the flag of Massachusetts, for heaven's sakes," he added.
Ask state officials why New Hampshire flies the Canadian flag at its most popular beach and the general consensus seems to be: We've always done it that way.
Philip Bryce, director of the state division of parks and recreation, said he asked around to try to find out when the state started flying the Canadian flag at Hampton Beach. The answer was that "it's always been flown," he said.
A few people at the beach June 29 shared their thoughts.
"I don't like it. This isn't Canada," said Korean War veteran Don Barrett of Merrimack. "Why not fly a Cuban flag?"
He said he has been to Canada a few times and has never seen an American flag flying.
His wife, Cheryl, had not noticed the Canadian flag.
Paul Viau was at the beach with his wife, Pauline.
"I don't have a problem with it. The Canadians come down and support us," Paul Viau said. "With the number of Canadians that are here it is a nice, friendly gesture on our part.''
The Viaus, who live in Fitchburg, Mass., met on Hampton Beach in 1961 and have been summer residents ever since.
Hundreds of thousands
Canadians are by far the largest group of international visitors to New Hampshire, Bryce said. More than 424,200 tourists from Canada visited the state in 2011, according to the state tourism office.
"We want to show them that we're glad that they're visiting, and of course the beach is the major destination for many of those visitors," Bryce said.
When state officials were evaluating plans for the redevelopment of Hampton Beach State Park, the question arose of whether all four flags would remain part of the display.
George Bald, who was commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development until he retired last November, wanted to keep the Canadian flag flying at the beach.
"Obviously, we welcome any international visitors to Hampton, but there are an awful lot of Canadian visitors to our state and specifically to Hampton Beach, and we felt that it was a way of being respectful to them, that we honor them," Bald said.
He noted DRED has done a lot in recent years to attract Canadian tourists, so flying the flag seemed in keeping with that effort. He said he thinks folks in New Hampshire think differently about Canada and its flag than they do about other countries.
"I think because they're our neighbor," he said.
Bryce also noted there's a rich French-Canadian heritage in New Hampshire, especially in cities such as Manchester and Berlin.
"We have really close ties to Canada, so it's just a way of expressing our appreciation for our relationship," he said.
Amy Bassett, assistant director of the state Division of Travel and Tourism, has worked for the state for 20 years. She said the Canadian flag has flown at the beach as long as she can remember.
And B.J. "Doc" Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said he's lived at the beach for 40 years, and the Canadian flag has been there all along. "Even inside our visitors center, we have the American flag and the Canadian flag," he said.
"The Canadians love the beach: Ogunquit, Old Orchard (both in Maine) and Hampton, not necessarily in that order," Noel said.
And these visitors appreciate having their flag flown here, Noel said. "They love to see that. We hear it all the time from the Canadian visitors."
Bryce noted the signs at state parks are in French in addition to English and, increasingly, also in Spanish.
"We want folks to feel welcome when they're in our parks - and we want them to understand the signs, too," he said.
Sunday News Correspondent Gretyl Macalaster contributed to this story.