Saint Pierre & Miquelon (Island Week 4)

Wednesday, 30th September 2009 by

It’s Island Week 4 here at GSS, which means we’ll mostly be posting about Islands. For about a week.

The last remaining fragments of the formerly immense French Empire in North America are the islands which make up the Territorial Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, located 25km off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Of the eight islands which make up the archipelago, only Saint Pierre and Miquelon-Langlade are inhabited today, though history traces populations back to the early 16th century, and possibly even earlier. Control of the islands switched between England and France numerous times before France took permanent ownership in 1815.

Saint Pierre houses the capital (of the same name) of the collectivity, and the bulk of the population – about 5,500 people. Five much smaller islands off the north and east coasts are also part of the territory.

Saint Pierre Saint Pierre

The waterfront of Saint Pierre is dominated by the Customs House and General Charles de Gaulle Square where the Tricolor is raised on Bastille Day.

Saint Pierre

Miquelon-Langlade comprises two formerly separate islands now joined by a 12km long sandspit called La Dune, which local lore explains was built up by the 500 ships which wrecked in the area.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Despite their larger size, these islands are home to less than 700 permanent residents on Miquelon. The last remaining Langlade resident passed away a couple of years ago, though many islanders do keep summer homes here.

The sandbar also protects Grand Barachois – a large lagoon on Miquelon which supports a colony of seals and other wildlife.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

The collectivity has been a sore point for Canada on occasion. During World War II, Canada contemplated invading the islands when they were suspected of assisting German submarines. More recently a conflict over fishing rights had to be resolved by the International Court of Arbitration, which awarded France territory surrounding the islands in addition to 19km wide corridor stretching 370km to the south.

To help preserve fishing as a traditional way of life, the government built Les Salines – cabins where fishermen keep their boats and process their catches.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Saint Pierre and Miquelon is renowned as the only place in North America where Euros are legal tender1, and for the quality of the baguettes, for which French flour is specially imported!

The islands have a couple of notable historical moments: In 1889 a convicted murderer became the only person ever to be executed by guillotine in North America. And from 1920 to 1933, they experienced a significant period of economic prosperity caused by alcohol smuggling during Prohibition in the US.

Thanks to Rob Shostak, Thomas Paul and Josh Simons.

  1. Canadian dollars are also widely used.