The Acadian Archives/Archives Acadiennes of the University of Maine at Fort Kent is pleased to open their new exhibit, “Evangeline,” with a wine and cheese reception on July 5 at 4:30 pm.

“Evangeline, A Tale of Acadia” is an epic poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1847. The poem is about a young Acadian woman named Evangeline who becomes separated from her fiancé, Gabriel, during the Grand Dérangement or Expulsion of the Acadians from their homeland, Nova Scotia. The poem follows Evangeline across the landscapes of America as she spends years in search of Gabriel, at some points, missing him by a day or even hours. She finally settles in Philadelphia and becomes a Sister of Mercy tending to the poor and sick. It is in this setting that she finds Gabriel, on his death bed, and embraces him before he dies.

“Longfellow’s fictional character, based on the facts of the British deportation of French Catholics in Acadia between 1755 and 1763, was an instant international success,” said Lise Pelletier, Acadian Archives director. “Within ten years, the poem had sold 36,000 copies. It has been translated into more than one hundred languages. It is undoubtedly the most famous American poem, still taught in high schools and universities everywhere.”

The poem had a powerful impact in defining both Acadian history and identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the Maritime Provinces, the poem was translated to French and published in the daily newspaper. The poem brought outside visibility to the Acadian people, trying to build a new life for themselves after their return from exile. Felix Voorhies set out to write a Cajun version, “Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline” and the true story of the Acadians of Louisiana. In this story, Emmeline Labiche dies and is buried under an oak tree in St. Martinville.

Evangeline was also the first Canadian feature film, produced in 1913 by Canadian Bioscope of Halifax. It was shot in the Annapolis Valley and at Grand-Pré. In 1929, Edwin Carewe made a film version starring Dolores del Rio, shot in Louisiana and accompanied by a theme song written by Al Jolson and Billy Rose.

The Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes exhibit features reproductions of illustrations that accompanied the many publications of the poem; memorabilia from the Maritime Provinces and Louisiana; books, costumes, advertisements of all kinds, etc. In addition to the Archives’ own collection, on display are items from the collections of Ms. Françoise Paradis, Fr. Jacques LaPointe, and Mr. Gerry Morin.

For more information, please call the Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes at 834-7535 or visit: Open weekdays from 8 am to 4:30 pm.

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