The islands were named Saint-Pierre et Miquelon by Jacques Cartier who stopped there 6 days in 1535. They changed hands several times between the French and the British but were retained as a base for the French fishing fleet when France lost its vast North American possessions by the 1763 Treaty of Paris following their defeat on the Plains of Abraham near Quebec city.
Notwithstanding that treaty, the islands were attacked by the British and returned to France several times until they were definitely cede to the French by the second Treaty of Paris in 1815. After each invasion, the British deported the islanders with the result that the oldest families on the Islands are now the descendants of Acadian refugees fleeing the brutal 1755 deportation from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Louisiana. The British were early experts in the "ethnic cleansing" of seized lands.
Breton and Basque fishermen settled in large numbers since 1815 and now the Basque descendants form the majority of the population.
The real value of these islands was cod until greedy overfishing destroyed that rich North Atlantic resource. Fishing rights have been a conflictual issue between Canada and France until international arbitration awarded the islands exclusive rights on 12 000 sq. km (only a quarter of their original claim). Now that the cod is gone both parties are losers.
Destruction of the cod fishery is no doubt due to overfishing by international fleets but Brigitte Bardot's ego building campaign against seal hunting has caused a huge proliferation of these predators that feed mainly on cod. By the way, it is worth mentioning that the old ex-actress' success in protecting baby seals has also caused the loss of livelihood for thousands of people, causing real human hardship here, in Newfoundland, Labrador and in the Gulf of St-Laurence.
The economy of the islands boomed for a while during the prohibition in the US from 1919 to 1935 but it now depends mainly on subsidies from France and a small tourist industry.
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Saint-Pierre's fine airport is an example of France's effort to artificially sustain these islands. That's quite normal actually, Denmark sustains a living standard in Greenland well above what the island could afford on it's own and Canada does the same with Newfoundland. Newfies don't want to to admit it but that is nevertheless the way it is.
I took a room in the Hôtel Paris-Madrid for 35 US$ a night, less than half of what it would have cost at the Hôtel Robert next door.
This is the Hôtel Robert, the best place in town.
As you can see, it is not without cause that Saint-Pierre is renowned for fog. This building houses the post office and other administrative offices.
The sun worshipper I am was disappointed not to feel its warm caress on my skin but I made the best of it, trading my comfort for the romantic mystery of these pastel coloured houses around Place du Général Charles de Gaulle.
With the fog lifting a little, the true colours emerge along the rue du Général Leclerc (another WW II hero who, slighted by the British, managed nonetheless to be the first to enter liberated Paris),
And of course, the local Catholic church.
Here is Saint-Pierre's city hall.
And its hospital, just around the corner,
I visited the city centre on foot but took a bus tour to see the neighbourhood sights.
Having a boat (even a small one), is not luxury when you live on an island.
The following four pictures show a characteristic feature of St-Pierrois architecture, the "tambour", a kind of vestibule that lets you in and out of the house while keeping the gale out when it is blowing. It can also by seen in parts of rural Quebec.
Most Saint Pierrois are relatively poor but some have got it made. The family in this older house, in the Savoyard area, probably made it in the prohibition era.
This residence in the same area is more representative of new money, business or upper echelon government service.
I happened to be in Saint-Pierre during the Basque festival featuring cultural and athletic events. I took a few pictures on the fronton field when the fog lifted on my second afternoon there.
This is the fronton where the Basque play their national sport of paleta (a fast moving game played with a hard rubber ball and wooden paddles).
On the third day, I decided not to visit Langlade and Miquelon and took this ferry bound for Fortune in Newfoundland.
Had it been warm and sunny, I probably would have visited the other two islands but the cold and fog chased me away.
In spite of the miserable weather, my overall impression was positive for the people were friendly and it was interesting to experience such a completely French atmosphere isolated in North America (Quebec does not count, its atmosphere is Québécois, not French.).