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Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (Overseas collectivity, France)

Last modified: 2020-06-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: saint-pierre-et-miquelon |
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French national flag - Image by Željko Heimer, 7 May 2005


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Presentation of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon

The archipelago ofSaint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is located in the north-west of the Atlantic Ocean, 25 km south of the island of Newfoundland (Canada), 4,600 km of Paris.
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 have been linked by a sandy isthmus including in its northern part a brackish laggon, Grand Barachois. Miquelon and Langlade are also called Grande Miquelon and Petite Miquelon, respectively. A few smaller islands, for instance Grand Colombier and Îles 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 Anse du Gouvernement.

The oldest human remains found in Saint-Pierre-et-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). Corte-Real renamed it to 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 Francis 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. Barnabas' 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 Langley, is probably derived from L'Anglais (The English).

The organized colonization of the islands that started at the end of the 17th century was officially encouraged by King Louis XIV. Most settlers were fishers from Basque Country, Brittany and Normandy. Merchants from Saint-Malo (Brittany) settled in Saint-Pierre and built warehouses dedicated to codfish storage. The Grand Banks of Newfoundland were so rich in cods that the explorer Giovanni Caboto (15th 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 of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon depended on the larger French colony of Plaisance, 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-et-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 allowed them to come back to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
In the aftermath of another war lost by France in 1778, the inhabitants of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon were once again deported. They were allowed to come back in 1783.Another war and deportation episode occured in 1793.

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 decades were the Gilded Age of the archipelago, with the buildings of roads, lighthouses, the post office (1854), and the Banque des Îles (1889), and the release of an official gazette (Feuille Officielle). For the next 180 years, codfish would be the sole source of income for the islands. 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 North America. A named Néel was sentenced to death for a murder. Shipped from Martinique, the guillotine could hardly work. Since there was no official executor, a gendarme operated the guillotine; he soon left the islands because everybody called him Judas and refused his money. Doctor Albert Calmette (1863-1933), hired in 1887 as a microbiologist to investigate the alteration of codfish color, found out that the alteration was caused by bacteria living in salt. Subsequently hired by Louis Pasteur, Calmette developed with the veterinarian Camille Guérin (1872-1961) the vaccine against tuberculosis known as BCG (Bacillum Calmette-Guérin).

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. 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 Gilbert de Bournat. On 24 December 1941, Admiral Muselier, commanding three corvettes and the submarine Surcouf, raided the islands. Bournat was arrested and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon rallied Free France. New York newspapers 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 Grand 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 stop 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 representatives were jailed in Canada. In 1994, France and Canada signed an agreement that ended industrial fishing in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

From 1872 to 1936, there were three municipalities in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. The two municipalities of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon-Langlade were re-established in 1945. The archipelago was thenan oversea territory (territoire d'outre-mer) administrated by a Governor. On 19 July 1976, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon became a departement. By the Law of 11 June 1985, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is now a Territorial Collectivity of the French Republic (Collectivité territoriale de la République française). The French state is represented by a Préfet, 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 Representative, a Senator and a Councillor at the Economic and Social Council.

Ivan Sache, 5 March 2005


Official flag of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon

The official flag of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is the French national flag.

Ivan Sache, 7 May 2005


Local symbols of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon

Flag]         [Arms]

Local flag and arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 4 July 2005

The local flag of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is blue with a yellow ship, said to represent 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, Basque Country, Brittany and Normandy.

Ivan Sache, 4 July 2005

The coat of arms of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, adopted around 1933, shows the elements of the flag, with the three square fields 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 & Luc Baronian, 2 June 2005