Saint Pierre and Miquelon are tiny islands 20 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland and represent all that is left of France's once mighty North American empire. The islands are represented in the Parliament in France by one deputy and senator respectively. The 6,400 inhabitants remain proudly French, keeping the traditions and way of life of their ancestors.
Actually, this corner of the old world actually consists of three main islands - Saint Pierre, Langlade, Miquelon - and, in the harbor of Saint Pierre, the tiny Sailor's Island.
The tall old-fashioned stone buildings fronting Saint Pierre's harbor, the winding, narrow streets, and vividly painted wooden houses, convey the feeling of stepping directly into Europe. The one small museum has relics relating to the islands' colorful history.
Discovered by Portuguese explorer Joao Alvares Fagundes in 1520, Saint Pierre was claimed by Jacques Cartier for France in 1636. French fishermen and Acadians deported from Canada by the British settled the island. For over 100 years, the French and English fought over possession until the Treaty of Paris awarded the islands to France in 1815.
The American prohibition was the islands' most prosperous era. Bootleggers like Al Capone used the islands as the transfer point between the distilleries of Scotland and the wine producers of Europe. The liquor traffic came to an abrupt end in 1935 and just the small trafficking with Newfoundland continued. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, and prices of food and other products were raised to balance the budget, smuggling increased. It is a trade that continues to this day, despite the tremendously heavy fines.
The French wine, perfume and other goods in the duty-free shop entice many visitors, as do the numerous good restaurants, which befits a region of France. Recently, North Americans have been coming here to learn French in a typical French environment. Air Saint Pierre flies here regularly and a passenger ferry service travels to Newfoundland.
The majority of the population lives on the eastern side of Saint Pierre which is sheltered from the winds continually sweeping the islands. An isthmus of sand joins Miquelon to the island of Langlade. The isthmus only began to appear about 200 years ago. It was formed by the action of sea current, helped by the wreck of ships trapped in the sand.
The islands have a rough and wild charm, with its rocky land of peat bogs and marsh. A sandy beach and towering cliffs distinguish the coast of the largest island, the summer vacation spot of Langlade. After two centuries as a fishing village, Sailor's Island is now inhabited only during the summer.
The islands' economy depends entirely on fish. To diversify, the islanders have worked on developing scallop fishing and increasing tourism. A casino built recently at Saint Pierre has helped this cause.
How to Get There
Saint Pierre and Miquelon has two airports: one at Saint Pierre and another at Miquelon. Air Saint-Pierre connects the two airports with various Canadian cities. There is also a regular ferry service that runs between Saint Pierre and Fortune, Newfoundland.