5 really cool things about Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Just off the coast of Newfoundland is a collection of islands that are not part of the province. Indeed, they are not even Canada! Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are the last piece of French territory in North America. They are quite distinct from Newfoundland and Labrador, making them a must visit. Indeed, the tourism industry of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the Burin Peninsula, in Eastern Newfoundland, are closely entwined. You’ll discover a whole new world when you take the ferry from the town of Fortune. Here’s some of the coolest facts about Newfoundland and Labrador’s closest foreign country.
It was French, then English, French then English, and eventually French again
If anything, the history of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon has been tumultuous. They have long been a territory that has been exchanged, sometimes violently so, between the French and the English as they waged conflicts in the larger world. Originally a French settlement, the British took control of the islands in 1713, 1778, 1794, 1803, and 1815, with the French taking back possession between each of these occupations. Eventually, the French took control of the islands once again in 1816, this time permanently.
It was a rum runner’s paradise
During the 1920s and the American prohibition, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon featured prominently in efforts to smuggle alcohol into the US, with infamous mobsters setting up operations on the island. In fact, even Al Capone used the islands, and was a client of Hotel Robert, a hotel that still operates to this day.
It has one island that’s actually two islands!
Photo by Doc Searls
Perhaps the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon should be known as Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and Langlade. The largest island is technically known as Miquelon-Langlade, and it is dumbbell shape, the northern portion being Miquelon and the southern portion being Langlade. What connects them is the Dune de Langlade, a not-so-permanent sandy isthmus. In fact, during the 18th century, a storm destroyed the isthmus, creating two islands, only to have currents shortly thereafter connect them once again.
You can travel through time
Newfoundland is known for its own quirky 30 minute time zone, but Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is something else entirely. They too have their own time zone, this one being 30 minutes ahead of Newfoundland time. So at noon in Newfoundland, it’s 12:30 P.M. in Saint-Pierre, 11:30 A.M. in Halifax, and 10:30 A.M. in Toronto. Technically, this makes Saint-Pierre and Miquelon the first place in North America to celebrate the New Year. This unique time zone provides has an interesting quirk. Since you have to travel west by ferry from Fortune to reach St. Pierre, it’s one of the few time zones on earth that will force you to set your watch ahead as you travel west.
While Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is near Newfoundland and share its climate and geography, one can be excused for thinking that culturally they will be a lot like Newfoundland and Labrador. Nothing can be further from the truth! When travelling to Saint-Pierre, you’ll go through customs (don’t forget your passport!), you’ll use the Euro, and you’ll experience French food, wine, music, and, of course, the language. Indeed, it is culturally distinct, and proudly so! Newfoundland may be the most eastern portion of North America, but Saint-Pierre is, at least culturally, the most western portion of Europe!
And one bonus quirky fact about Newfoundland
Due to the proximity and small size of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, they do depend on the island in some regards. There are plenty of close connections through families and friends, and the citizens of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are regular visitors to the island of Newfoundland. While it may not be an everyday occurrence, it is not uncommon to see cars with European license plates in Newfoundland, making it the only place in North America that you will see this with any regularity!
Photos courtesy of Vanina Merkle, unless otherwise noted.