Saturday, May 17, 2008

Last of Colonialism in North America

In the country to our north, Canada,

pretty close to us here in Maine(orange), is the island of Newfoundland(red).

Just under which, as indicated by the arrow & circle

are the small islands

shown here.

The French Islands Saint Pierre and Michelon are remnants of the age of 'exploration' of the "New World" by European settlers. St. Pierre et Miquelon is a small archipelago comprised of seven islands, the three larger of which are St. Pierre, Miquelon, and Langlade. In addition to their unique geopolitical situation, St. Pierre et Miquelon have an equally interesting history.The main reason the islands have remained French over the last 50 years is because of the importance of the Cod Fishery. Saint Pierre and Michelon have been mainly under French control since the sixteenth century, except a short period when the French left the island under terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. During that time the English controlled the islands, from the early 17th century until the French regained sovereignty in 1763. The 1st European settlers were Basque fisherman and it was an important and thriving fishing center. Today it remains as the only vestige of France located in North America.
As in Newfoundland, the area suffered from over-fishing, which forced Canada to impose a quota system on Saint Pierre and Michelon which permanently impacted the fishing industry of the islands. The islands also served criminals during the prohibition era being used extensively smuggle liquor into the United States gangsters such as Al Capone himself. Life is arduous there, the climate is damp and windy with winters as hard as they are long. Similar to Newfoundland, spring and early summer is foggy, summer and early fall is a pleasant time on the islands. During this short period, the economy depends on tourism, fish farming, crab fishing and very limited agriculture.The French government also provides funding that directly supports ther economy and ensures their continued habitation. The Euro is the official means of exchange as it is the formal currency of France. Beside Saint Pierre, the bigger island of Michelon and Langlade are actually two islands that were joined by an immense sandbar during the 18th century. There are also some small islands that were used during the heyday of the fishing industry. Land on these islands is bare and rocky with the only topsoil being a thin layer of peat. The shore line is steep and the only good harbor is located at Saint Pierre.

There are roughly 6400 residents on the islands today, about 80% of them live on Saint Pierre. Approximately 2000 are permanent or long term with their family ancestry dating back roughly four centuries. The rest are employed by the French government for administrative purposes, and are sent there from one to three years of duty. Even the police are brought in for a one year tour of duty. There are only two gas stations on the island of Saint Pierre while there are approximately a staggering 4,000 cars. Religion on the islands is ninety-five percent Catholic and there is only one church on the island. Crime is almost nonexistent, power is produced from Diesel generators and there has been some testing of the use of wind generators as well.

The island of Saint Pierre is ten square miles and there is one cemetery which has family plots assigned and permits up to four burials in one plot. For years, locals erected 'summer only bungalows' on the far side of thes small island, but more recently modern homes have been constructed for year round living. Food served at the seven or eight small bistros and one bakery is decidedly French. Almost everything reflects French tradition and culture. The people of the islands have tense relations with France. They believe that France that did not protect islander's interests relative to the negotiations with Canada about their fishing rights. Once a month, a ship from France is bringing the most desired stuff: French wine, cheese and other delicacies and specialties. Everyone rushes to buy it in big quantities, first come, first served! Products like cheese, which cannot be kept a long time, are frozen. Almost all supplies are shipped from France to the islands via Halifax, Nova Scotia. France has recently relaxed regulations and now allow islander's to purchase some basic items such as eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables directly from Canada and the United States.

The ferry system is the primary means of access, although a fairly new airport on Saint Pierre can accomodate aircrafy up to the size of a Boeing 737 which are flown in from the Canadian cities of St John’s, Halifax, Moncton, Toronto and there's even one from Havana, Cuba. A longer runway is planned which will then allow direct flights to and from France. The ferries travel to the islands only from around May until October, then the only means of getting to the islands is by plane or private/charter vessel.There isn't any newspaper and television access depends on cable TV from Canada and satellite TV from France. Island schools go through high school, after which students can travel to France for a free University education.
All in all, a pretty neat little hunk of Europe, right in our neighborhood.

Until next time, take care.


Melly/Melody/or Mel said...


I think I want to vacation there. Far from the maddening crowds..I hate super touristy spots.

I love your "useless facts" too...I learned quite a bit of info that just might be useful when I watch Jeopardy, which I love!

Annette said...

Though France is near to us I would like to be there once. I bet people on Michelon and Saint Pierre are kindlier then people in France that I got to know.
Nice maps, Mike. Interesting to see how close all the places are.

patricia said...

Good info, Mike. I knew those islands were there, but I didn't know they were French, thought they were Canadian.

Good trivia,too.

Jim said...

Great post Mike. Very interesting. I didn't know any of that, so I've learned something new tonight.

Muhd Imran said...

First time here and I learned so much than I ever did in high school.

I shall call this Mikepedia... only more interesting because it has humor and lots of pictures.

There are so much interesting information and facts that it hurts my brain.

My Wifey will definitely thrive on this. She loves history and reading-up on other cultures.

Don't mind me linking you up in my blog.

Have a good weekend.

Mies said...

Not food, not trivia and not an old distant memory, but a geography/travel log lesson...You are a well rounded writer with many interests that you like to share. Very nice and thank you...L
PS...Always love the photos and how you lay them out to start off the post. It really grabs the interest of the reader...

Hahn at Home said...

You made me think of that song, You're So Vain -
Then you flew your lear jet up to nova scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun

What the hell does that mean, anyway?

Wally da Weasel said...

Looks like a good place for Roscoe. Did you send him the $$$$?

Cherie said...

Way cool, Mike! Loved this, another education with delicious photos to boot!

Oh Canada!!

R. C. said...

Been looking for Mike....
He's a no-show here as it seems....He probably FORGOT. (eye roll)...

R. C. said...

Damn, I meant my last comment to only be 10 words as I know that is the limit!(eye roll again)

Mimi Lenox said...

Great shots!

You've been tagged by Mimi Queen of Memes
BlogBlast For Peace ~Join The Revolution

Brother Tim said...

What's goin' on? Have you heard from Roscoe?

sandy's notes said...

I went up to Prince Edward Island last summer, my ancestry is from there. I realized that even though I was as far north as I thought I could get, there was another world even farther north. How wonderful!

It's funny reading all your comments, somehow I find myself wanting to say, are you hiding Roscoe?

By the way, I tagged you.

Mike S said...

I was curious how many folks had ever heard of this little piece of France in N. America.

Lori, think Warren Beatty and an eclipse in the mid 60s.

Have sent Roscoe adequate funds to travel from Ulan Bator to the US. He seems to have wandered off with a buncha hard partying Indians though.

Deanna said...

I finally had a chance to read your article. Fascinating island. It makes me wonder what life there would be like, and to have such a European-related history on an American shore.

Mike S said...

Deanna... where we live most highway signs are in French and English. Most stores have a sign saying "French speakers on staff". A lot of other European languages heard alla time here too, but Quebec is just a hop-skip-and-jump-away, and they gotta buncha French speakers. Even the police in almost every town and county have French speakers and Spanish too. Lotta migrant workers here that got legit green cards & some even citizenship. Employers help them.

tshsmom said...

WOW, I've never heard of this little piece of France before! And I thought I was up on my Canadian history. I'll have to see if my Canadian daughter knows about this. ;)

tweetey30 said...

Came by of Tshsmom's place. Have known her for years. Nice blog and beautiful photo's. My site is nbrsspot in the four I have sitting there.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for the info. I am Canadian and my Great Grandmother Margurite Laffitte was born and raised there. I didn't know anything about the Islands at all. It looks Beautiful.