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.
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.
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.
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).