At one time France controlled vast holdings throughout North America, stretching from the North Atlantic far into the interior of the continent and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
France had been a great colonial power in North America since the Sixteenth Century while jostling against the territorial aspirations of Britain and Spain. The other powers ascended, often at France’s expense, and France lost colonial holdings after incursions, fighting, negotiations and treaties. It also sold one of its major segments, the Louisiana Colony, to the fledgling United States of America which used it as a springboard to dominate the central portion of the continent. The widespread French holdings that once reached through much of North America have become a mere vestige, reduced to a tiny archipelago off the southern coast of Newfoundland known as Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
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St. Pierre & Miquelon are 4500 Km from Paris but only 25 Km from Canada just south of Newfoundland. Nonetheless, the islands take on a distinctly French flair, a slice of continental Europe in an unlikely, remote spot. The islands stand apart culturally despite their proximity to the North American continent.
- They occupy a unique time zone for North America, two hours ahead of Eastern Time, one hour ahead of Atlantic Time and thirty minutes ahead of Newfoundland Standard Time.
- Their local currency is the Euro.
- Electrical outlets are configured for 220 Volts so that Canadians visitors need to bring converters with French-style plugs.
- Telephone numbers have six digits rather than the standard seven as would be found a few kilometres away.
- License plates are not the usual twelve by six inches ubiquitous throughout North America but rather the longer, skinnier European version.
The islands themselves are composed primarily of St. Pierre, where the majority of the 7,000 residents live, and Miquelon with about 700 residents. There are also a number of smaller islets including Grand Colombier, Petit Colombier, Île aux Marins, Île aux Pigeons and Île aux Vainqueurs. These islets are generally uninhabited through much of the year except for the summer months. Miquelon itself is interesting from a geological standpoint because it’s actually three islands that have been joined together by tombolos, or large sandbars formed over time by the action of waves. Miquelon’s distinct pieces are Le Cap, Miquelon, and Langlade. The landmass of the entire archipelago, the Collectivité territoriale de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, when added together is a mere 242 square kilometres. That’s a far cry from the glory that was once New France.
European inhabitants first settled permanently on St. Pierre & Miquelon in the 17th Century. They were Basques, Bretons and Normans who came to fish for cod on the nearby Grand Banks. It was a rugged and hard-working lifestyle punctuated by prosperity only briefly when alcohol prohibition in the United States turned the islands into a smuggling outpost. Relationships between Canada and France have been strained from time-to-time over these islands, or more accurately, over the fishing rights as overfishing reduced local cod populations. A 1992 International Court of Arbitration ruling settled the question for the moment, generally in favor of Canada with the exception of a narrow rectangular corridor running 370 km due south of the islands. It greatly impacted the fishing industry in St. Pierre & Miquelon which is now undertaking efforts to diversity its economy. One of the ways it hopes to do this is through tourism.
This may be the only spot on the planet where one can take a regularly-scheduled ferry ride directly from Canada to France.
Source of Map of New France: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:N_FR.JPG
as edited under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2.