Musée acadien de l'université de Moncton
The Acadians have two major symbols that distinguish them as a people, their national flag - a tricolour with one yellow star - and Evangeline. The latter, however, is the one that is most widely known.
The creation of American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the mythic figure of Evangeline is the heroine of his poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, first published in 1847. The story was inspired, however, by a French-Canadian oral tale and is in keeping with the historical record. When the Acadians are deported in 1755, Evangeline is separated from her fiancé, Gabriel. Completely faithful to him, she spends the rest of her life looking for him among the hamlets and villages of the Acadians living in exile throughout the American colonies. When she finally does find him, she is an old woman and Gabriel is on his deathbed.
This epic poem, perfectly in tune with the Romantic feelings of the time, was a smashing success in both North America and Europe. It inspired numerous artists, writers and musicians to produce works based on the Acadian heroine. Evangeline is featured in many engravings, paintings and sculptures, not to mention all the poems, songs and operas dedicated to her. She was one of the first stars of early 20th-century American film, and her story is related in the first Canadian full-length feature, shot in 1913. She has also enjoyed popularity in the world of business, where her image has been used as a logo and trademark.
For Acadians, Evangeline is a symbol of perseverance and hope. Her name is invoked in patriotic rallies and popular ceremonies. She is in fact so much a part of the popular mind that she occasionally transcends the world of the imagination to become an actual historical figure.
The Louisiana version of the Evangeline legend is different from that found in North Acadia. In the Louisiana variant, popularized by the writings of Felix Voorhies at the turn of the 20th century, Evangeline also manages to find Gabriel; he, however, has given up hope and married another woman. Evangeline dies of heartbreak shortly after.
Thanks to Longfellow's talented pen and the power of myth, Evangeline has made the tragic history of the Acadian people known to the whole world.