In season 7, episode 4 of the cult comedy “Trailer Park Boys,” Bubbles, the show’s cat-loving moral compass with Coke-bottle glasses, is stranded outside his Canadian homeland. Desperate for help he makes a collect call back to Nova Scotia. “Julian!” he shouts into the payphone, “I’m in Bangor, Maine!”
For many people in the Canadian Maritimes who want to visit the United States, Bangor is their destination whether they’re shopping, seeing a concert, gambling, passing through, or attending a model train convention like Bubbles. Why Bangor? Location. It’s the closest major city (there’s a Target) once you cross into the United States from New Brunswick.
A recent article in the BDN by historian and author Carol B. Smith Fisher explains the history of Bangor, offering–among other things–some new insights about how the Queen City got its name. This has always been a point of contention because, according to folklore, the name was supposed to be “Sunbury,” but somehow got changed inexplicably to “Bangor” by Rev. Seth Noble. Some suggest he was humming the tune, or was fond of Bangor, Ireland, or was drinking too much (sounds like a Bangor guy). Fisher offers an explanation that actually makes sense.
Sunbury, as fine a name as it is, was also the name of the county in New Brunswick where Noble had emigrated from. Fisher explains that for the officials in Boston, “naming a Massachusetts town after a county in Canada was unacceptable at a time when the boundaries with Canada were in conflict.” In other words, the name Sunbury would have been a P.R. nightmare. Bangor, on the other hand, was everyone’s favorite hymn, and maybe more importantly, there was no “Bangor, Canada” to cause confusion.
Boston shipbuilders didn’t need to sail downeast to know what the Kenduskeag Plantation really was: the key to massive supplies of lumber in northern Maine. Whoever controlled Bangor controlled access to that timber, so there was actually quite a bit a stake in the town’s name, giving credence to Fisher’s theory. For more proof of Bangor’s strategic importance to the United States when wooden ships ruled the seas, check out Fort Knox in Prospect.
These days, of course, ships are made of metal at Bath Iron Works and Maine’s border with Canada is mostly undisputed. Meanwhile, here is Bangor, way up in the corner of the United States, but clearly not Canadian. Looking up I-95 from the south, I’m sure it looks like the last bump on a dead end road, inconveniently located way up the pike. But from the east, from across the border, Bangor, Maine is the first and only stop you need in the USA. Just ask Bubbles.