Montreal Daily Star, 16 March 1907, page 16
Grand Pre and Evangeline.
Rev. RF Dixon, of Wolfville, NS, whose letter we publish to-day, is mistaken in supposing such remarks as we made on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Longfellow were intended to throw cold water on any movement for securing the old French Acadian Cemetery in his neighbourhood, and preserving it as a memorial of the deported Acadians, at or near the site of their chief settlements. Such an object is worthy of the assistance of any who read history and revere antiquities. Moreover, as Rev. Mr. Dixon himself says, the idea has no necessary connection with the Longfellow centenary, having originated several years ago. Our correspondent “has entirely missed the point” of our editorial. The farther the Grand Pre memorial can be kept away from any association with the name of Longfellow, or the story of Evangeline, the more will it deserve the countenance of those who value historic accuracy; the more will it be something to cement the people of two races which were once antagonistic and now dwell together in harmony; the more it will tend to keep clear the fair name of our American cousins, by whom the deporting was carried out.
It was the suggestion in some of the American papers that the Longfellow centenary should be celebrated by erecting a monument to the Massachusetts poet at Grand Pre, and a Longfellow memorial fund be also used for restoring the “old church” there, which was protested by the Star. It is unjust to the memory of the great poet to accuse him of giving the story of Evangeline as history, when he never claimed for it anything but romance. At the same time, in treating the Acadians, the scenery, the sufferings of the people, and the facts, with a poet’s license, grave harm was done to the memory of the New England officers and levies who handled the whole affair. Carried away by the charm of Longfellow’s touching tale and without accurate information as to the facts, thousands of people have believed the story faithfully narrated what occurred; that the British were tyrants who unnecessarily ordered an innocent and loyal people to be deprived of their homes, and the New Englanders went down and carried out the orders with what can only be called inhuman cruelty. This has been emphasized as time rolled on by using the story for advertizing purposes to draw tourists, till in the eyes of many Americans, Nova Scotia is known as the “Land of Evangeline.” Persons have not been above scraping up a little earth and gravel from a railway road bed and giving it to visitors as mould from the grave of Evangeline; cutting willow walking sticks from any convenient thicket of a few years’ growth and passing them off as from a tree in Evangeline’s garden.
How one may be led astray by the Longfellow description is shown by the fact that even Rev. Mr. Dixon, living practically within the sight of the scene of trouble in the olden time, is mistaken as to the exact site of the church. Longfellow wrote:
“Thronged ere long was the church with men. Without, in the churchyard,
Waited the women. They stood by the graves, and hung on the headstones
Garlands of autumn leaves and evergreens fresh from the forest.”
From this it was assumed that the church was in the graveyard, as is often the case in European villages, but rarely in Acadian villages of to-day. Rev. Mr. Dixon says that “the foundations of the church, observable in this grave yard, are to-day absolutely unmistakable.” Col. Winslow, writing to Governor Lawrence, on August 22, 1775, says that “I have taken up my quarters, between the church and chapel yard, having the Prest (priest’s) house for my own accommodation and the church for a place of arms.” On the same date, writing to William Coffin, Jr., merchant of Boston, Col. Winslow said: “I am in possession of your old Ground at Mines, have Incampt here having the Church on my right of which I have made a Place of Arms, the Churchyard on my left have 313 men, officers. Included and Expect to be soon reinforced.” Col. Winslow had the advantage over the rest of his having been there at the time he wrote, and he shows that the church was not in the churchyard at all, but that there was room for a picketed encampment of over 313 men, between the church and the churchyard. This, the “foundations,” now discernable in the churchyard, would do for Evangeline but not for history.