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Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (Overseas collectivity, France)


Last modified: 2012-05-17 by ivan sache
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French national flag - Image by Željko Heimer, 7 May 2005

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Presentation of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

The archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is located in the north-west of the Atlantic Ocean, 25 km south of the island of Newfoundland (Canada). The distance between Paris and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is 4,600 km.
The islands belong to the Appalachian Paleozoic platform, along with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia; the land is poor and the soil is thin, scraped by the glacial erosion, the harsh climate and deforestation.

The archipelago is made of three main islands, Saint-Pierre (26 sq. km), Miquelon (110 sq. km) and Langlade (91 sq. km). Since the 18th century, Miquelon and Langlade are linked by a sandy isthmus including in its northern part a brackish laguna called Grand Barachois. Miquelon and Langlade are also called Grande Miquelon and Petite Miquelon, respectively. A few smaller islands, for instance the Grand Colombier and the Iles aux Marins, inhabited until the 1960s, are located off the eastern coast of Saint-Pierre.
In spite of being smaller, Saint-Pierre (5,618 inhabitants) is the most important island of the archipelago with most of the population and the economical activity. A hundred of families (698 inhabitants) live on Miquelon. Langlade is inhabited only in summer, mostly near the sand beach of the Anse du Gouvernement.

The oldest human remains found in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon belong to Inuit whalers. Basque whalers and seal hunters probably landed on the archipelago long before its official discovery by the Portuguese José Álvarez Faguendes on 19-21 0ctober 1520. The archipelago was then named Eleven Thousand Virgins' Islands (Islas de Onze Mille Virgens). The Corte Real renamed it the Green Islands.
On 15 June 1535, Jacques Cartier, sailing on the Grande Hermine, took possession of the islands in the name of King of France François I and coined the name of Saint-Pierre:

Nous fumes ausdictes yles sainct Pierre, ou trouvasmes plusieurs navires, tant de France que de Bretaigne, depuis le jour sainct Bernabe, XIe de juing, jusques au XVIe jour dudict moys
We stayed to the so-called Saint-Pierre islands where we found several French and Breton ships, from St. Barnabe's day, the 11th of June, until the 16th of June.

The name of Miquelon (after Michel) was coined by Basque fishers around 1579. The name of Langlade, formerly known as Langley, is probably derived from L'Anglais (The English).

The organized colonization of the islands started at the end of the XVIIth century and was officially encouraged by King Louis XIV. Most settlers were fishers from Pays Basque, Brittany and Normandy. Merchants from Saint-Malo (Brittany) settled in Saint-Pierre and built warehouses dedicated to codfish storage. The Great Banks were so rich in cods that the explorer Giovanni Caboto (XVth century) is said to have fished a lot of cods just by dipping a basket in the water. Cod fishing was a source of dispute between the French and English settlers in North America, which turned into a succession of wars.

The French colony on Saint-Pierre and Miquelon depended on the larger French colony of Plaisance, on Newfoundland. By the treaty of Utrecht (1713), the French settlers had to withdraw from Newfoundland and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. They moved to Cap Breton (Nova Scotia), aka Isle Royale, but kept the right to fish on a part of the coast of Newfoundland called the French Shore. In 1763 (treaty of Paris), France lost most of its American possessions but was retroceded Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Some 800 Acadians, who refused to plead allegiance to the British Crown, settled in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Several of them were rich shipowners, who were granted the status of refugees. However, the French government repatriated the Acadians to France in 1767, claiming the islands were too small and poor to house them. They settled in the ports of Brest, Saint-Malo, Lorient and Dunkirk, until 1768, when the government decided to send them back to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.
In summer 1763, James Cook drew a nautical map of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon; he wrote:

The Ifland is as subject to Fogs as any part in Newfoundland yes if we may credit the late Planters it is very convienient for catching and curing of Codfish

The coasts of the islands are among the most dangerous in the world, with a list of some 600 wrecks.

France and England were again at war in 1778. France lost and the inhabitants of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were once again deported. They were allowed to come back in 1783.
In 1793, following a new war between France and England, the islanders were once again deported, but they progressively returned to the islands, until Britain definitively ceded the archipelago to France in 1816.

Some 700 colonists and 49 shipwrights rebuilt the village of Saint-Pierre. More than 70 French ships called at Saint-Pierre that very same year. The 1860-1890 was the golden age of the archipelago, with the buildings of roads, lighthouses, the post office (1854), and the Banque des Iles (1889) and the release of an official gazette (Feuille Officielle). For the next 180 years, the islands made their fortune in codfish. George Allan England wrote in 1929 (Isles of Romance):

St. Pierre was once the liveliest fishing port in the world. The eighties of the last century beheld its greatest prosperity. In those days seven to eight thousand fisheman from St Malo, Fécamp, St Brieuc, and Dieppe, and the arrival of the Terre Neuvas, the vessels and crews from France, was a wondrous, treasure producing event. The French and St. Pierre armateurs, or outfitters, reaped golden harvests indeed.

On 24 August 1889, the guillotine was used for the first and last time in Northern America. A named Néel was sentenced to death for a murder. There was no guillotine on the islands and one had to be shipped from Martinique; the guillotine arrived in a very bad state and could hardly work. There was no official executor and the gendarme appointed for the execution had to leave the islands because everybody called him Judas and refused his money. A young doctor attended the execution; he had landed on Saint-Pierre in 1887 as a microbiologist and understood the alteration of the colour of codfish caused by a bacterium living in salt. The doctor was named Albert Calmette and invented years later with the veterinarian Camille Guérin the vaccine against tuberculosis known as BCG.

In 1903, the fishing campaign yielded bad results and an economical crisis hit the islands, which mostly relied on the shipowners from European France and totally lacked economical independence.
One fourth of the islanders who fought in the First World War never saw their homeland again.
In the 1920s, the economical situation improved because of the Prohibition; the islanders became bootleggers, which was more profitable than fishing. Saint-Pierre was the main hub of alcohol traffic to the USA. The port was increased. This sudden wealthy period ended in 1933 when the Prohibition was lifted.

During the Second World War, several fishers from the archipelago enlisted in the Forces Navales Françaises Libres, in spite of the opposition of Governor de Cournette. On 24 December 1941, Admiral Muselier, commanding three corvettes and the submarine Surcouf, raided the islands. Cournette was arrested and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon rallied the France libre. The newspapers in New York called the event "the most beautiful Christmas present for the free world".
After the War, Saint-Pierre was a main port of call for the 500 trawlers that fished every year on the Great Banks.

In 1977, Canada increased its jurisdiction to 200 nautic miles. Saint-Pierre did the same but a dispute started because of the proximity of Newfoundland. The crisis grew more acrimonious when Canada decided to avoid overfishing. In 1987, the French trawlers were no longer allowed to call at the Canadian ports. The islanders started the "Codfish Crusade" and fished into forbidden areas. The French trawlers were inspected, fishers and elected members were jailed in Canada. In 1994, France and Canada signed an agreement that suppressed the industrial fishing in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

From 1872 to 1936, there were three municipalities in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. The two municipalities of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon-Langlade were reestablished in 1945. The archipelago was then an oversea territory (territoire d'outre-mer) administrated by a Governor. On 19 July 1976, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon became a departement. By the law of 11 June 1985, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is now a Territorial Collectivity of the French Republic (Collectivité territoriale de la République française). The French state is represented by a prefet, who resides in Saint-Pierre. The local government is the General Council (19 members electing according to the list system, 15 in Saint-Pierre and 4 in Miquelon-Langlade). The General Council has a specific competence on customs, tax, urbanism and housing.
In Paris, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is represented by a Deputy, a Senator and a Councillor at the Economic and Social Council.


Ivan Sache, 5 March 2005

Official flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

The official flag in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is the French national flag.

Ivan Sache, 7 May 2005

Local flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

Local flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon]

Local flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon - Image by Arnaud Leroy

The local flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is blue with a yellow ship, said to be the Grande Hermine, which brought in Saint-Pierre Jacques Cartier on 15 June 1535. Three square fields placed along the hoist recall the origin of most inhabitants of the islands, from top to bottom, Basques, Breton and Normans.

On the above image, the main field of the flag is light blue, the waves are discontinuous and white, and the upper wave (surface of the sea) is black, with another white wave just below it.
Since there is no specification for the flag, it can be argued that it is only a possible version of this flag. A real flag matching this image was shown and explained in great detail during the TV program Thalassa (24 June 2005). Similar pictures of the flag can be seen on Pascal Vagnat's website.

Ivan Sache, 7 July 2005

In a local discussion board, someone complained on 28 June 2005 that the current flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon does not represent the inhabitants of the archipelago of Acadian origin. S/he suggested to add a yellow star in the blue field of the flag to represent Acadia.

Ivan Sache, 4 July 2005

Local coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

[Coat of arms]

Local coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

The coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon shows the elements of the flag, with the three square field present along the hoist of the flag placed horizontally in chief.

The arms shown on dexter chief (upper left corner) is the Zazpiak Bat or arms of the six territories which Basque nationalists consider to have Basque heritage. However the version on the Saint-Pierre and Miquelon arms is a pre-1936 one, still bearing the "attributes of monarchical or lordly institutions and of fratricidal fights among Basques" which were removed in the 1936 arms.

Santiago Dotor, 11 September 2002

According to the municipal administration of Saint-Pierre, the coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon was adopted around 1933.

Luc Baronian, 2 June 2005

As seen during the TV program Thalassa (24 June 2005), the gendarmes of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon wear as a shoulder patch made of the coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, with a very dark blue field.

Marin Montagnon, 7 July 2005