Monday, May 28, 2012

20km to the European Union

Would you believe if I told you that it is only 25km from Canada into the European Union?

Their language is French, their customs are French, they have French license plates on their cars, their currency is the EURO and their Head of State is the French President, currently Francois Hollande.

I am talking about an archipelago of small islands off the coast of Newfoundland. St. Pierre et Miquelon are a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France. It is the only remnant of the former North American colonial empire of New France that remains under French control. The islands are situated at the entrance of Fortune Bay, which extends into the southern coast of Newfoundland, near the Grand Banks. They are 3,819 kilometers from Brest, the nearest point in Metropolitan France, but just 20 kilometers off the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland.

The islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were discovered by Europeans on October 21, 1520, by the Portuguese João Álvares Fagundes, who bestowed on them their original name of "Islands of the 11,000 Virgins". They were made a French possession in 1536 byJacques Cartier on behalf of the King of France. Though already frequented by Micmac Indians 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.

By the early 1700s, the islands were again uninhabited, and were ceded to the English by the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. That happened along with Campobello Island becoming British territory. 

Under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris which put an end to the Seven Years' War, France ceded all its North American possessions, keeping only Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, as well as fishing rights on the coasts of Newfoundland. After the long interlude of British occupation from 1714 to 1763, the islands knew little peace, but witnessed a significant rise in business and population, as they were now the last French territory in North America.

Britain invaded and razed the colony in 1778, during the American revolutionary war, and the entire population of 2,000 was sent back to France.

By the 1780s, about 1,000 or 1,500 people lived on the islands, their numbers doubling during the fishing season. The French Revolutionary Wars affected the archipelago dramatically: 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 1814 Treaty of Paris gave them back to France, though Britain occupied them yet again during the Hundred Days War. France then reclaimed 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 elements, particularly from the nearby island of Newfoundland.

This would be just the short version of being thrown back and forth between French and British rule. Today the archipelago which consist of eight islands, whereof only 2 are inhabited are indeed part of the European Union. Since March 2003, Saint Pierre and Miquelon has been an overseas collectivity with a special statute. The archipelago became an overseas territory in 1946, then an overseas department in 1976, before acquiring the status of territorial collectivity in 1985.

France is responsible for the defence of the islands. The Maritime Gendarmerie has maintained a patrol boat, the Fulmar, on the islands since 1997. Law enforcement in Saint Pierre and Miquelon is the responsibility of a branch of the French Gendarmerie Nationale. There are two police stations in the archipelago.

If you now decide you want to visit the islands and you are a Canadian you wouldn’t even need a passport. Americans though, do need a passport. Visitors can either fly in from various airports in Canada or take a passenger vessel from Fortune, Newfoundland.

The new airport of Saint-Pierre, opened in 1999, was intended to make direct flights to France possible, but the situation remained unchanged with no direct flights as of 2007. Flights from and to Saint-Pierre all pass through Canada. Air Saint-Pierre’s ATR 42 aircraft flies from the Canadian airports of St John's, Sydney, Halifax and Montreal all year round.

The archipelago is not a heaven for those who seek solitude in quiet forests (there are none) or want to get a sun tan on the beach. The coasts are mostly rocky and though the average year-round temperatures are higher than on mainland Canada, it is the sea fog which can make an otherwise nice summer day a rather wet and cold experience. The reason for that is the location of the islands at the confluence of the cold Labrador current with the warm waters of the Gulfstream.

If you still want to visit the islands and plan to take a drive up there, just remember to leave your vehicle at the harbour in Fortune, Newfoundland. You can’t take it across!

For more travel-related information go to: 


And that’ll be all for today! If you need me, I’m in my shop!

Thanks for stopping by!




  1. Amazing the back and forth for a piece of land that sure doesn't sound all that wonderful a place to visit. But once again, I had not idea this place even existed so thank you.

  2. Great history lesson - I had forgotten all about those little islands since we learned about them in school many years ago. If I'm ever in the area, I just might hop over there just to say I've been to France.

  3. Meh, sooner do the real thing. Paris was much warmer each time I was there.

  4. My comment sounded a bit arrogant. Didn't mean it to be.
    Just happened to be closer to France is all. Also, not so sure I'd ever make it those islands. Sounds just a wee bit too foggy and cool for me.


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