Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Introduction:

Saint Pierre and Miquelon, officially the Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France, situated in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean near the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the only part of New France that remains under French control, with an area of 242 square kilometers (93 sq mi) and a population of 6,008 at the March 2016 census.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon on Global Map

The islands are situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the entrance of Fortune Bay, which extends into the southwestern coast of Newfoundland, near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. They are 3,819 kilometers (2,373 mi) from Brest, the nearest point in Metropolitan France, and 25 kilometers (16 mi) from the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland.

History:

Archaeological evidence indicates that native peoples, such as the Beothuk, visited St Pierre and Miquelon; however, it is not thought that they settled on the islands permanently.

The Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes is thought to be have been the first European to have landed on the islands; he visited them on 21 October 1520 and named the St. Pierre island group the ‘Eleven Thousand Virgins’, as the day marked the feast day of St. Ursula and her virgin companions. They were made a French possession in 1536 by Jacques Cartier on behalf of the King of France. Though already frequented by Mi’kmaq people and Basque and Breton fishermen, the islands were not permanently settled until the end of the 17th century: four permanent inhabitants were counted in 1670, and 22 in 1691.

Jacques Cartier

In 1670, during Jean Talon’s tenure as Intendant of New France, a French officer annexed the islands when he found a dozen French fishermen camped there. The British Royal Navy soon began to harass the French settlers, pillaging their camps and ships. By the early 1700s, the islands were again uninhabited, and were ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. The British renamed St Pierre to ‘St Peter’, and small numbers of British and American settlers began arriving.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which put an end to the Seven Years’ War, France ceded all its North American possessions, but Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were returned to France. France also maintained fishing rights on the coasts of Newfoundland (French Shore).

With France being allied with the Americans during the American Revolutionary War, Britain invaded and razed the colony in 1778, sending the entire population of 2,000 back to France. In 1793 the British landed in Saint-Pierre and, the following year, expelled the French population, and tried to install British settlers. The British colony was in turn sacked by French troops in 1796. The Treaty of Amiens of 1802 returned the islands to France, but Britain reoccupied them when hostilities recommenced the next year.

The Treaty of Paris (1814) gave the islands back to France, though Britain occupied them yet again during the Hundred Days War. France then reclaimed the now uninhabited islands in which all structures and buildings had been destroyed or fallen into disrepair. The islands were resettled in 1816. The settlers were mostly Basques, Bretons and Normans, who were joined by various other peoples, particularly from the nearby island of Newfoundland. Only around the middle of the century did increased fishing bring a certain prosperity to the little colony.

St Pierre, Le Quai La Roncière, 1887

In 1903 the colony toyed with the idea of joining the United States, but in the end nothing came of the idea. During the early 1910s the colony suffered severely as a result of unprofitable fisheries, and large numbers of its people emigrated to Nova Scotia and Quebec. The draft imposed on all male inhabitants of conscript age after the beginning of World War I crippled the fisheries, which could not be processed by the older men or the women and children. About 400 men from the colony served in the French military during World War I, 25% of whom died. The increase in the adoption of steam trawlers in the fisheries also contributed to the reduction in employment opportunities.

Smuggling had always been an important economic activity in the islands, but it became especially prominent in the 1920s with the institution of prohibition in the United States. In 1931 the archipelago was reported to have imported 1,815,271 U.S. gallons (1,511,529 imperial gallons; 6,871,550 liters) of whisky from Canada in 12 months, most of it to be smuggled into the United States. The end of prohibition in 1933 plunged the islands once more into economic depression.

Saint-Pierre in 1921

During World War II, despite opposition from Canada, Britain, and the United States, Charles de Gaulle seized the archipelago from Vichy France, to which the local government had pledged its allegiance. In a referendum on December 26, 1941, the population endorsed the takeover by Free France by a vote of 63 for Free France with 3 ballots voided. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, Saint Pierre and Miquelon was given the option of becoming fully integrated with France, becoming a self-governing state within the French Community, or preserving the status of overseas territory; it decided to remain a territory.

Geography:

Located off the western end of the Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula, the archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon is composed of eight islands, totalling 242 square kilometers (93 sq mi), of which only two are inhabited. The islands are bare and rocky, with steep coasts, and only a thin layer of peat to soften the hard landscape. The islands are geologically part of the northeastern end of the Appalachian Mountains along with Newfoundland.

Saint Pierre Island, whose area is smaller, 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi), is the most populous and the commercial and administrative center of the archipelago. Saint-Pierre Airport has been in operation since 1999 and is capable of accommodating long-haul flights from France.

Saint Pierre in 2014 Aerial View

Miquelon-Langlade, the largest island, is in fact composed of two islands, Miquelon Island (also called Grande Miquelon), 110 square kilometers (42 sq mi), connected to Langlade Island (Petite Miquelon), 91 square kilometres (35 sq mi), by the Dune de Langlade (also known as the Isthme de Langlade), a 10-kilometer (6.2 mi) long sandy tombolo. A storm had severed them in the 18th century, separating the two islands for several decades, before currents reconstructed the isthmus. Morne de la Grande Montagne, the highest point in the territory at 240m, is located on Grande Miquelon. The waters between Langlade and Saint-Pierre were called “the Mouth of Hell” (French: Gueule d’Enfer) until about 1900, as more than 600 shipwrecks have been recorded in that point since 1800. In the north of Miquelon Island is the village of Miquelon-Langlade (710 inhabitants), while Langlade Island was almost deserted (only one inhabitant in the 1999 census).

A third, formerly inhabited island, Isle-aux-Marins, known as Île-aux-Chiens until 1931 and located a short distance from the port of Saint-Pierre, has been uninhabited since 1963. The other main islands are Grand Colombier, Île aux Vainquers and Île aux Pigeons.

Economy:

The inhabitants have traditionally earned their livelihood by fishing and by servicing the fishing fleets operating off the coast of Newfoundland. The climate and the small amount of available land militate against activities such as farming and livestock raising (weather conditions are severe, confining the growing season to a few weeks, and the soil contains significant peat and clay and is largely infertile). Since 1992 the economy has been in steep decline, following the depletion of fish stocks due to over-fishing, the limitation of fishing areas and the ban imposed on all cod fishing by the Canadian Government.

Fishing Boats in Saint-Pierre Harbor

The rise in unemployment has been countered by state financial aid for the retraining of businesses and individuals. The construction of the airport in 1999 helped sustain activity in the construction industry and public works. Fish farming, crab fishing and agriculture are being developed to diversify the local economy. The future of Saint Pierre and Miquelon rests on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture. Explorations are under way to exploit deposits of oil and gas. Tourism relies on the proximity to Canada, while commerce and crafts make up the bulk of the business sector.

The euro functions as the official currency of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. The Canadian dollar is also widely accepted and used, but change is usually given in euros. The “Institut d’émission des départements d’outre-mer” (IEDOM), the French public institution responsible for issuing currency in the overseas territories that use the euro on behalf of the Bank of France, has had an agency in Saint Pierre since 1978. The islands have issued their own stamps from 1885 to the present, except for a period between 1 April 1978 and 3 February 1986 when French stamps not specific to Saint Pierre and Miquelon were used.

Transportation:

For many years there was no direct air link between Saint Pierre and mainland France. Although the 1999 opening of the Saint-Pierre Airport was intended to overcome this problem, a direct air link was not established until Air Saint-Pierre announced it would conduct direct seasonal flights from Paris in the summer of 2018. Until then, all flights from and to Saint-Pierre passed through Canada. Air Saint-Pierre’s ATR 42 aircraft flies seasonally from the Canadian airports of Sydney and Stephenville, and year-round from Halifax, Montreal, and St John’s. A smaller airport on Miquelon provides inter-island flights.

St Pierre Airport

Ferry services operated by SPM Ferries connect St Pierre with Miquelon and the Newfoundland town of Fortune. In the summer, additional services operate between St Pierre and Langlade and between Miquelon and Fortune. The ferries are capable of carrying up to 18 vehicles. However, continuing delays in building suitable port facilities in Fortune mean only foot passengers are transported between Fortune and St Pierre or Fortune and Miquelon.

Flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon:

The flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is officially the flag of France, as Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is a self-governing overseas collectivity of France.

Flag of France

In 1982 an unofficial local flag was designed, based on the Collectivity’s coat of arms.

Unofficial Flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

The flag is blue with a yellow ship, said to be Grande Hermine, which brought Jacques Cartier to Saint-Pierre on 15 June 1536. Three square fields placed along the hoist recall the origin of most inhabitants of the islands, from top to bottom, Basques, Bretons, and Normans. The flag was likely designed by André Paturel, a local business owner.

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