St. Pierre and Miquelon: The Last French Colony in North America

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About 25 kilometers off the coast of Canada, in the North Atlantic, lies a tiny bit of France. It’s a string of islands belonging to the archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which—despite being located nearly 4,000 kilometer away from the mainland— are still under French control. These islands represent the last foothold of colonial France in the Atlantic.

The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were first set foot on by Europeans in 1520, and they became a French colony is 1536. For the next few centuries the islands moved back and forth between the British and French as they squabbled over who should rule over which geographic portion of the foreign continent. Eventually, France gave up all of its North American colonies, which at one stage covered a major chunk of eastern North America; all except the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which are still in French hands.

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The island of St. Pierre. Photo credit: Gord McKenna/Flickr

The archipelago is composed of eight islands, totaling 242 square kilometers. Of these only two islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon, are inhabited. The rest are bare and rocky, with steep coasts, and only a thin layer of peat to soften the hard landscape. Ninety percent of the islands’ 6,000 inhabitants live on St. Pierre, which is small but has a good harbor with deepwater docking facilities and an airport.

Traditionally, the inhabitants of St. Pierre and Miquelon earned their livelihood by catching fish and by servicing fishing fleets operating off the coast of Newfoundland. But in the early 1920s, the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States ushered in a new economic opportunity.

St. Pierre and Miquelon, being a French colony, became the de facto hub for smuggling liquor into North America. This new industry became so lucrative that the islanders gave up fishing. Fish factories closed down and became storage facilities, while new concrete warehouses sprang up all along the waterfront. Despite a massive construction boom, storage facilities were still inadequate causing the liquor companies to pay private homeowners for use of their basements to stockpile. During its heydays, even Al Capone came over to spend time on the island.

For nearly thirteen years this small and remote island experienced unprecedented economic prosperity supplying alcohol to their dry neighbors. But when Prohibition ended in 1933, the thriving economy collapsed and the islanders went back to fishing.

Peculiar Sea Boundaries

In 1972, a dispute arose between Canada and France regarding the maritime boundary between Canada and the French territory of St. Pierre and Miquelon. The dispute was settled in 1992 by arbitration. An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was created around the islands, and awarded that to France. The zone has an unusual keyhole like shape, with a 20-km wide and 348-km-long narrow corridor that ran south of the islands. The corridor was supposed to give France access to its EEZ from international waters without having to pass through the Canadian EEZ.

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However, the boundaries were not properly drawn, and as evident from the map above, Canada’s zone extends well beyond France’s, cutting off the intended access route.

As per New York Times, the maritime boundary contained another blunder.

The maritime border, halfway between St. Pierre and Newfoundland, may pass through Canada’s Green Island and the Little Green Islands just to its south. Or it may not. Some maps place all of these islets on either side of the border, some place the border straight through them — providing France with a third dry-land border in the Americas

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The islands of St. Pierre (right) and Miquelon (upper left). The island on the lower left is Langlade. Photo credit: Doc Searls/Flickr

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Crates of champagne being offloaded at the docks of St. Pierre. Photo credit: bayoffundy.ca

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Crates of champagne being offloaded at the docks of St. Pierre. Photo credit: bayoffundy.ca

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The island of St. Pierre. Photo credit: Gord McKenna/Flickr

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The island of St. Pierre. Photo credit: Gord McKenna/Flickr

Source: The Daily Beast / NY Times / Wikipedia

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