We took a lazy stroll through St. Martinville, Louisiana on a Saturday afternoon. Whenever we had inquired about where we should go for the history of Cajun Country, this town was recommended every time. In just the few city blocks of St. Martinville’s Town Square, we found the sampling we been hoping to find.
Ed and I wandered into the park along the Bayou Teche where we paused under the Evangeline Oak. One travel brochure claims this to be “the most photographed tree in the world.” Legend suggests that the tree marked the meeting place of two the ill-fated lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel, separated when the British forced the Acadians from Nova Scotia. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem “Evangeline” portrays this love story. A truer story of the deportation of the Acadians to Louisiana is revealed in the Acadian Memorial where we spent most of our time.
There’s a commemorative marker in the park not far from the Oak. As a Canadian, Ed filled with pride. The Canadian government dedicated the site “to commemorate the 1996 twinning of East Oak Park and Grand-Pré National Historic Site of Canada.” The occasion marked the 250 year anniversary of the Diaspora of the Acadians from Canada – 1755 to 2005. The British have never given apology or offered a similar tribute to the refuges that came to Louisiana.
We found shimmering Mardi Gras costumes and paintings by regional artists in the Duchamp Opera House on Main Street. One of the local artists was manning the store. She showed us her painting of children walking into the local church – St. Martin De Tours Catholic Church – dressed for the celebration their First Holy Communion. She told us she priced the painting high because she really didn’t want to sell it.
We visited that church in the painting as parishioners began arriving for Saturday Mass. The church was established in 1765, building circa is 1844. Inside, pews have wooden gates with a spot for family names. Years ago parishioners could reserve the row exclusively for their family. We learned the tradition is ignored today. Outside the church is the Evangeline Monument, a statue of this Acadian heroine.
Our visit to Martinsville ended in Dana’s Bakery with a cup of fresh brewed coffee and an assortment of cookies – macaroons and peanut butter ones to be exact. While we recharged on caffeine and sugar, we talked with a man and his son who had come to help close up the bakery for the day. From this man, we learned about the economic struggles of the community – plant closures, cost of diesel for farmers, worries over the war, and concerns about the presidential
election. From the boy, we saw the hope for a good tomorrow. It was here that the Acadian
past, Louisiana present, and the future all came together.
April 12, 2008