August 15, 5:55 p.m.

Still stands the forest primeval; but under the shade
      of its branches
Dwells another race, with other customs and language.
Only along the shore of the mournful and misty Atlantic
Linger a few Acadian peasants, whose fathers from exile
Wandered back to their native land to die in its bosom.
In the fisherman’s cot the wheel and the loom are
     still busy;
Maidens still wear their Norman caps and their kirtles
      of homespun,
And by the evening fire repeat Evangeline’s story …
– From the closing verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow underestimated the Acadian people.

Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, written in 1847, ends with a passage about a few hardscrabble Acadians who made their way back to their beloved land to do nothing more than die –– and continue to tell the story of their revered Evangeline.

Yes, the Acadians continue to tell the story of their cultural heroine (without regard to her fictitious origins), but they did much more than return to the Canadian Maritime provinces just to die.

In fact, some of them never left –– despite the death sentence the British government handed down during and after the 1755 Great Deportation, when more than 10,000 Acadian families were stripped of their belongings and land and sent hither and yon.

Without question, Longfellow did extensive research on Acadian families and their genealogy. However, he never visited the Canadian Maritime provinces where his most famous tale begins.

His lack of on-the-ground research shows. A visit to contemporary Acadia provides plenty of evidence of Longfellow’s folly.

The Acadian people, with their legendary robust spirit, are alive and well. The red, white and blue Stella Maris, the Acadian flag, flies proudly in front of many homes and businesses. People wear the Acadian flag or the colors as a way of life.

Longfellow was correct on one account: The Acadians are still telling and re-telling the story of Evangeline and Gabriel. For special occasions, the young and old paint their bodies and faces in the style of their flag or dress like their beloved Evangeline and Gabriel –– all symbols of their indomitable spirit of survival.

The grand and innovative displays of Acadian pride take cultural pride to levels rarely seen. These days, Acadians of the Canadian Maritime provinces do more than paint their faces, wear fake tattoos and Acadian flag T-shirts and dress like Gabriel and Evangeline.

“We say, ‘We’ll be Evangeline and Gabriel’ or ‘You’ll be Evangeline and Gabriel,’” says Thérèse Savoie of Neguac, New Brunswick. “We wear the clothes that look like theirs. They’re a part of our culture. They’re a part of our lives. In fact, I’ve got the pattern of their clothes from the Acadian Historic Village [near Caraquet].”

Acadian-themed yard art and décor is a cottage industry. Some of the homes feature giant versions of musical instruments featured prominently in Acadian music. Others feature life-size dolls dressed in homemade clothes.

“I made their clothes,” says a Mrs. Landry of the fully dressed life-size Evangeline and Gabriel in her front yard just off of the highway between Caraquet and Grand Anse. “I dress them every morning, and I take their clothes in to clean every evening.”

There’s a genuine and growing cultural pride behind the yard art, T-shirts and tattoos. Granted, the Canadian Maritime Acadians speak English and are as friendly a folk as a traveler will likely find the world over, but there’s no question as to the depth of the Acadians’ cultural pride and heritage.

“Our culture is just a part of our lives,” says Huguette Lanteigne, a participant at the 2008 Tintamarre in Caraquet. “It’s what we teach our children. For example, our son had a friend over who didn’t want to come [to the Tintamarre]. I explained to him that we must stay together. We must come to be a part of this event.”

Despite their lack of interest in coming, by the day’s end, Lanteigne’s 6-year-old son and his friend enthusiastically joined the commotion of letting the rest of the world know that the Acadians are still alive and well, which is the purpose of the Tintamarre.

The event happens each year on Aug. 15 at 5:55 p.m. Both the date and the time are significant to Acadians. Aug. 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the Acadians. The time, 5:55 p.m., or 17:55, marks the year the deportation began. Acadians gather on the streets of towns and villages, especially Caraquet, to make as much noise as possible to let the world know they’re still around and thriving.

The outward display of Acadian pride is relatively new to the area.

Warren Perrin of Lafayette is the president of the Council for Development of French in Louisiana. Perrin has made many trips to the Canadian Maritimes and observed the growth of Acadian pride.

“What I noticed the first time I went to the Maritimes in 1989 was that they still had much tension between the English and the French speakers,” Perrin says. “The first night I was there I was going to wear a Ragin’ Cajuns T-shirt out to a bar, and the guy I was with asked me to change because he was afraid we would get in a fight. But since that time, there’s been a dramatic change. The first Congrès changed the whole dynamics. It made the Acadians come out of the closet.”

The first Congrès Mondial Acadien was held in New Brunswick in 1994. Since then, a Congrès has occurred at five-year intervals. The events offer an opportunity for Acadians from around the world to renew old relationships and meet new family members –– to relate on a personal and cultural level.

While the first Congrès opened the Canadian Maritime floodgates of Acadian pride, on a personal level, the event changed the directions of the lives of many in attendance. Rachelle Dugas, originally from Moncton, New Brunswick, now makes her home in Lafayette. She was 12 years old when the first Congrès occurred and performed for the event as a part of a group of dancers.

She says: “I remember it was the first time that I looked around and thought: ‘Wow, I am a part of this. This is who I am, and we all have this common bond.’ It really had a profound effect –– not only on my life but on many of us. For example, at least three of the girls I was dancing with back then went on to work in some field relating to cultural awareness.”

 Dugas is now working to bring the 2014 Congrès to Louisiana.
In the Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pré
Lay in the fruitful valley. Vast meadows stretched to
      the eastward,
Giving the village its name, and pasture to flocks
      without number.
Dikes, that the hands of the farmers had raised
      with labor incessant,
Shut out the turbulent tides; but at stated seasons
      the flood-gates
Opened, and welcomed the sea to wander at will
      o’er the meadows,
West and south there were fields of flax, and orchards
      and cornfields
Spreading afar and unfenced o’er the plain; and
      away to the northward
Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft
      on the mountains
Sea-fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the
      mighty Atlantic
Looked on the happy valley, but ne’er from their
      station descended.
There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.
– From Part the First of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline

In Longfellow’s version of events, Evangeline Bellefontaine lived with her farming family in the Village of Grand-Pré – as did Gabriel Lajeunesse, the son of a blacksmith and her true love.

Back in 1755, Grand-Pré was at the heart of the region where Gov. Charles Lawrence was concentrating his efforts to round up and deport Acadians. Lt. Col. John Winslow and English troops used the church at Grand Pré as their headquarters. Acadian men were held in the church as English troops began attacking and deporting families and children. Like Evangeline and Gabriel, some families and loved ones were separated, and the Acadians were stripped of their belongings and land. More than 10,000 were sent to sea to ports unknown.

Today, Grand Pré, located on the outskirts of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in the Annapolis Valley, is a testament to the preservation of Acadian culture.
“Back then, the Acadians would have been divided into smaller groups and more easily controlled,” says Ginette Gautreau, a guide at the Acadian Odyssey exhibit, a part of the Monument Lefebvre National Historic Site in Memramcook, New Brunswick.

For most Acadian Odyssey visitors with Louisiana roots or ties, the most profound feature of the exhibit is a simple wall –– painted with the names of the Acadian people and families.

“Where is the name ‘Broussard’?” a Louisiana visitor asked Gautreau in late summer 2008.

“There are no more Broussards left here,” Gautreau said, as she gestured to the wall of names and continued explaining the list of familiar and not-so-familiar versions of names common in Louisiana.

“Because Acadians were very illiterate, the spelling of the names changed many times,” Gautreau says. “Doing your genealogy can be difficult because the spelling could change 10 times in 13 generations.”

For example, the name “Michot” also could be spelled “Mesheau.” Another common surname is spelled “Breau” or “Breault” in Canada while the Louisiana version is “Breaux.” The name “LeBlanc” could have been changed to the Anglicized “White.” But “Landry” is still “Landry,” and “Richard” is still “Richard.”

Although the Great Deportation lasted from 1755 until 1764, legally the Order of Deportation, according to the Treaty of Paris, remained in effect until 2003.

“That was the first time the government ever acknowledged the deportation was wrong, and it was rescinded,” says Perrin. “Technically, until then, Acadians returned to Nova Scotia ‘under penalty of death,’ according to the Treaty of Paris.”

According to Perrin and other Acadian scholars, the Acadian people were the only people not able to return.

“The Québécois were able to go back because their lands were not taken,” Perrin says. “It was absolutely, positively deliberate. Of course, some of them went back, but they did it secretly. They were illegal immigrants –– just like the United States has illegal immigrants today. They snuck in, and many of them were never deported. Many of them were hiding in the woods of Northern New Brunswick. No one wanted to go up there anyway.”