Not many know that off the south coast of Newfoundland in Canada, France still retains a colony. The islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon, the last French territory in North America, usually attract visitors in the spring and summer when a ferry links Fortune, a Canadian town in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the islands.
This year, though, year-round ferry service will begin operating, allowing up to 15 vehicles and 200 passengers to reach St-Pierre-Miquelon.
“It’s like a piece of France right next door,” Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell says. “The language is different from what we’re used to in Newfoundland, but it’s very similar … to the (language spoken in) the Basque region of France … It offers traditional French food, French atmosphere, and the music and song of France. It’s unique. This archipelago is indeed a part of Europe that’s right next to our border.”
The islands, which are roughly the size of Honolulu, are home to 6,000 French citizens. They were first discovered by Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes, who landed on the islands in 1520. They were eventually seized by France in 1536. Though the indigenous Canadian Mi'kmaq people, as well as Basque and Breton fishermen, often visited the islands, they were not officially occupied until 1670, when four French nationals settled on the archipelago.
The islands were eventually ceded to the British Empire under the Treaty of Utrecht. However in 1763, under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years' War, France relinquished all of its North American territories, except Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, which were returned to the French Empire.
Although St-Pierre-Miquelon is a self-governing territory, France still subsidizes the islands, whose economy is dependent on fishing, tourism and public service. The smallest island, St-Pierre, has the largest population. A favorite among tourists looking for inexpensive French wines, fresh seafood and French patisserie, the island comes alive in summer, when St. Pierre attracts campers and hikers looking for some relative peace and quiet.
The new ferry service, which was expected to begin operating on May 15, has been delayed due to financing. “I think they’re still about a million dollars short,” Penwell says. “So they’re looking to the provincial government and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to see if they can come up with a bit more money … So far there’s been no resolution.”
Despite the setback, a temporary solution is underway. “I met with officials from St-Pierre-Miquelon on Friday, and am hopeful they can reach an agreement with St-Pierre-Miquelon which will provide them with options to finance the expansion,” says, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Tourism Minister, Christopher Mitchelmore.
Those interested in visiting St-Pierre-Miquelon have several options. Air Saint-Pierre connects the islands to several cities, such as Halifax, Montréal and Paris, while a passenger-only ferry has round-trip connections between Saint-Pierre and Fortune.