I just finished reading a story that’s quite different from anything that I’ve read before. The story is Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s a poem telling the story of Evangeline, a young Acadian girl. Her wedding day is the day of Le Grand Dérangement, and she is separated from her husband-to-be and spend the rest of her life searching for him.
I had never heard about Evangeline until I went to the maritimes with my sister two summers ago. When we were there we found all sorts of things called Evangeline. On the tourist maps there the Evangeline Trail, (a driving route in Nova Scotia), and part of New Brunswick, at lest on the tourist maps, was referred to Evangeline’s Land. There are all kinds of places called Evangeline, the Evangeline Inn, even the Evangeline Credit Union.
At some point before my 2007 trip to the maritimes, my fiancée Joanie had told me the story of Evangeline and Gabriel, lovers separated on their wedding day, who spend the rest of their lives searching for each other. There is even a song that plays on the radio here in Québec, and has for years, with the story. However, at the time neither of us realized that Evangeline was an Acadian.
So, interested to know who Evangeline was, my sister and I kept our eyes open and I ended up getting a copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie for my fiancée as a gift. This is the poem that started the modern fascination with Evangeline, and is largely responsible for our awareness today of what happened on September 5, 1755, when an entire culture was forced from what had become their homeland and scattered around the globe.
Evangeline tells the story of a part of Canadian history that is not well taught in schools, at least not in the west where I grew up. I remember learning about the Acadians, and learning that they were sent away at one point, but I don’t remember it being presented as any type of tragedy, I remember it being taught as something that had to be done, after all, they spoke French, and Canada was British territory. Now, years later, I finally learned that deporting the Acadians was not simply business as usual. In fact, it ranks up there among the worst things done to a group of people in Canada. This past summer Joanie and I went to the maritimes and we had the chance not only to go to Grand Pré and learn more about life as an Acadian and the deportation, but we were lucky enough to be in Caraquet, New Brunswick, (the “Capital of Acadie”), during the Acadian World Congress, so we got to experience modern Acadie, and it’s a culture that we should try to hold on to here in Canada, (and always should have tried to hold on to).
Back to the poem, it’s a long poem, long enough that it’s printed as a book, but it’s not hard to read, (I don’t exactly read poetry all of the time), and I highly recommend it. For Canadians, it is a window into a time and events that form an important part of our history, for Americans it gives you a glimpse of the birth of the Cajun culture, and for all of us it inspires us with a story of faith that most of us rarely even imagine.
Want to read it yourself? Get from Amazon:
These links go to the edition that I read, (It has a good introduction). It may be easier to find other editions - just search around a bit.