St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Calais, Maine may be separated by a border, but these communities are close enough to share a homecoming celebration honouring the unique friendship they share. 

Few border towns celebrate with traditions like the International Homecoming Festival which kicked off its 46th annual celebration on Wednesday. However, both regions take part with their international neighbours by hosting events on both sides of the border – sharing a sense of community.

"We don't really even consider ourselves two communities, let alone two countries," says festival co-chair, Michelle Vest, noting the relationship between the two towns. "The number of intermarriages between the two sides would probably shock most people anywhere else – we're family."

The festival began at the Ferry Point International Bridge between the two towns for a ceremony called 'Hands Across the Border' where members from each community met in the middle of the bridge.

"We're all meeting and talking and shaking hands, exchanging flags, sharing our homecoming festival, starting it off – the big kickoff," says St. Stephen mayor, Allen MacEachern.

Despite 46 years of formal celebration, the warm relationship between the communities dates back to the 19th century.

"It goes back during the war of 1812 when we were technically at war with the Americans, but they didn't have enough gunpowder for the fourth of July," says Vest. "And so, the town of St. Stephen lent the city of Calais some gunpowder."

And the bond between the towns has only flourished over the years.

"It's because you're a double town, it's just almost like that border isn't there," says festival grand marshal, Guy White.

International Homecoming Festival co-chair, Roxanne Redding agrees, noting events like it are a rarity.

"It's definitely unique because there's not a lot of borders in this country that are like this," says Redding. "Usually, when you go to an international border, you don't see the other people right across from you."

The festival will continue until Sunday. 

With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Lyall