France in My Backyard: Some Words About St. Pierre et Miquelon

My first trip abroad was to France. It cost me just a few hundred dollars, and it only took an hour to get there by ferry from Newfoundland.

Photo courtesy of Miquelon (click photo)

Photo courtesy of Miquelon (click photo)

St. Pierre et Miquelon is a group of islands owned by France just chillin’ out in the Atlantic Ocean. Hardly anyone knows they’re there, and I suspect they kinda like it that way.
 
The place is bloody old. According to its website, the islands were used for more than 8000 years by the Beothuks and Paleo-Eskimos. Then the Europeans swooped in, set up fishing industry and the islands grew prosperous from there. SPM is also notoriously known for its rum-running history during the USA prohibition.
 
I assume one of the reasons the islands are so isolated is because it’s friggen hard to get there. There’s only one airline (Air Saint- Pierre), and there’s just one ferry which leaves from Fortune early in the morning. This means that driving to Fortune from St. John’s or any other urban areas when you get to Newfoundland is a hassle, and Fortune isn’t exactly the most fun place to visit.
 
Breaking it down: St. Pierre is the most populated island with about 6,500 people, and Miquelon is the larger island but has just a tiny village of 600 people. Then there’s the deserted Ile aux Marins, and a small farm-inhabited island called Langlade. AND THEN there’s a bunch of places I’ve never even heard of until just five minutes ago, like l’Ile aux Vainqueurs, l’Ile aux Pigeons and l’Ile Verte. I just got unreasonably excited.
 
 I haven’t been there in about eight years, but I remember the ferry ride and the young school children vomiting with seasickness. Then: stepping onto the pier, the whole downtown area opening up with colourful storefronts, old French-styled architecture and adorable little European cars (how the hell do you get cars to SPM?). And a man yelling at me to clear the plank.

Photo courtesy of Miquelon

Photo courtesy of Miquelon

Literally, the moment you step foot onto St. Pierre, you’re in a different country. English is barely spoken, and European voltage replaces North American standards. Euros are the currency. It feels like Europe, but you can’t ignore some of the Newfoundland vibes poking their way into the town like colourful saltbox houses, fishing boats, and damned chilly weather.
 
We were studying French at the Francoforum, Memorial University’s French institution. Me and a few girls stayed with a little old lady named Madame Luberry. We adored her food — the rich butter, the salads with vinaigrette sauces — and watching Friends dubbed with French. There was an albino lobster mounted on the wall in her living room.

We spent the next few days immersed in French culture, enjoying French cuisine and touring the ghost town on Ile aux Marins. Washed up on the beach was the hull of a ship. The 8 mile sand bar between Miquelon and St. Pierre has wrecked at least 500 vessels.

Shipwreck courtesy of transpacif

Shipwreck courtesy of miquelon

We were 16 at the time, bar-going age in St. Pierre. The discotheque reputably had the best light system “this side of Montreal,” which means perhaps two strobe lights instead of one. But it was our first real experience at a bar, sober, and we had more fun than a 16 year old ever could in Canada. I distinctly remember the woman dressed entirely in denim dancing with her eyes closed in the corner.

When not in classes, we’d stroll around the town with the smell of French bakeries flowing out from the streets. I bought $40 worth to bring home. $40. Pain du chocolat, croissants, French bread.

I can actually smell the town and imagine walking through fog so dense we couldn’t see our feet. Then there’s the shop where I bought the silver dolphin ring with the green stone, the one I lost just a few months ago.

Photo courtesy of Miquelon

Photo courtesy of Miquelon

The whole time I’ve been writing this post, my brain’s been bubbling over with excitement. Road trip, anyone?

Check out some more St. Pierre et Miquelon images in the Flickr group.

On another note, if you have time, check out this site I’ve lately discovered called Dog Meets World. It’s a unique project designed to allow travellers to make “real connections to other people in other cultures, in essence to become photo-diplomats.” Have a look!

  • April 06 2010

    If I ever make it back up to Newfoundland, I would gladly go to St. Pierre with you. It seems interesting, and Marc is now insisting that I bring back one of their nifty flags.

    • April 11 2010

      Deal! Was Marc very familiar with SPM before you read this post?

      • April 13 2010

        He knew about it and its history, though the first thing he said was “Yeah, France has some islands up there. They have really awesome flags.” What can I say: he’s a heraldry fan.

        Marc is curious as to whether the French spoken there is its own dialect, closer to France-French or closer to Quebec-French.

        • April 14 2010

          Hahaha. Definitely French-French, not Quebec-French. Even Canadian Universities teach French-French, it makes for a pretty confusing ordeal.

  • April 06 2010

    I did a project on this Island for French class in High School. I had never heard of it until then either. When we make our way out to the East Coast one of these days, I will have to include St. Pierre et Miquelon as a stop on our itinerary. Looks cool.

    • April 11 2010

      Most definitely! Even a few days on the islands would be a great experience. The ferry ride is a little expensive though…something like $107 round trip.

  • April 07 2010

    Oh, I would love to go here! It sounds like France but in North America, how cool!

    • April 11 2010

      That’s the thing, it IS France! It’s barely associated with North America at all, except for location.

  • April 07 2010

    Very cool, Candice! I’m still planning to go to SPM, either this or next summer. Lots of good info and great photos here.

    • April 11 2010

      Oh I hope you do, I would love to hear your take on it!

  • April 07 2010
    maggie

    i heart road trips…

    • April 11 2010

      Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a proper road trip.

      • April 12 2010
        maggie

        DEAR LORD. D: I will do my best to remedy that. What’s the point in my getting a car if I don’t have some random weekend road trips?

  • April 07 2010

    Candice,

    Every time I read your blog I’m filled with wanderlust for Canada. I hope the Canadian tourism board puts you on payroll soon because you are doing so much to shine a light on a country that too many people probably don’t give a second thought about visiting. You’ve got me dreaming of a few weeks in northeast Canada now…including a stop in St. Pierre!

    • April 11 2010

      Katie, adding this comment to my list of Self Stoke That Made Me Smile For Hours. Thank you!

  • April 07 2010

    My gosh, Candice, this place sounds utterly fascinating! You should go back. Immediately! Why do the French have islands so close to Canada? There must be a very interesting history lesson behind that. The photos you took are incredible. These places sound like they are begging you to explore them. I would totally go for it. Who doesn’t love exploring the unexplored? Who doesn’t love reading about the unexplored?

    • April 07 2010

      Okay, I just noticed you didn’t take the photos. But so what? You were there. If the place is close enough, perhaps you could become a sort of expert on it, like you are for Newfoundland.

    • April 07 2010

      The islands are there because back when the Grand Banks was the top fishing locale in the world, it was a lucrative place to have access to! When the French gave Canada over to the Brits, they kept those two islands in order to maintain their access to the fisheries there.

    • April 11 2010

      Totally unexplored! Blows my mind, really. I’m sure a lot has changed since the last time I was there and someone pointed out in this post I had some of my facts wrong, but all the more reason to go back, right? I honestly don’t know a lot about the history other than what’s available on the website, but I imagine it’s pretty awesome.

  • April 07 2010

    Until a few years ago I never knew St. Pierre et Miquelon existed. i think it’s really cool there’s a little bit of Europe so close to Canada. And it’s not some place a lot of people have heard of, these are some great tips. Whenever I get to Newfoundland, I’m definitely making a side trip here.

    • April 11 2010

      Most definitely! It’s unfortunate they’re so damned hard to get to. The flights are damned expensive.

  • April 07 2010

    That place looks pretty interesting, I guess there is a few French spots all around Canada.

    • April 11 2010

      Yes, but French-Canadian, which is a whole different culture completely. When I visited my coworkers in France, they mentioned Quebecois television and how hysterical they thought the language was. It’s a whole different thing, apparently!

      • April 14 2010

        Oh yes. There’s a very popular French TV show set (and filmed) in Quebec. Marc’s mother can’t stand the accent, so he watches it when she’s home just to hear her rant. It’s pretty hilarious.

  • April 07 2010

    I’ve never heard of these islands! Thanks for sharing. It amazes me that with so much access to information about the world, there are still so many little places like this tucked away that hardly anyone no one knows about!

    • April 11 2010

      Crazy eh? It’s funny because even a lot of maps of eastern Canada won’t label the SPM islands…they’re literally “off the map.”

  • April 08 2010

    Wow – like you said, I have never even heard of these little islands, but they look so uptopian – neat little lined streets! Would love to visit if I ever make it up there…though I fear I’d be like those school children on the boat!

    • April 11 2010

      I remember the waves were literally higher than the ferry, it was kinda terrifying…definitely bring Gravol! Hah.

  • April 08 2010

    I love exploring cool, small, interesting villages – next time I make it up to your corner of the world I’ll definitely include SPM on my to-do list. I hope you find your dolphin ring!

    • April 11 2010

      Alas, the dolphin ring is in two pieces and gone for good! Sad, sad day.

  • April 08 2010

    16 is bar-going age? Wow.

    • April 11 2010

      I *think* so. Either that, or 16 year olds were allowed club access but not bar access. The details are a little hazy in my old age.

  • April 08 2010

    Trisha – I’m in. Just tell me when. :)

    Really, though, it sounds so fantastic. You’ve described it beautifully, and certainly did it justice.

    • April 11 2010

      Thanks Geraldine! We’ll have to do a roadtrip sometime.

  • April 09 2010
    Rene

    Good morning, you wrote: ” Drivers drive on the left side of the road, roundabouts are everywhere”

    In St-Pierre & Miquelon drivers drive on the right side of the road and there are not too many roundabouts, two or three at the most if any.

    Regards

    • April 09 2010

      Woops, thanks for the feedback Rene! It’s been ages since I visited.

  • April 09 2010

    My mom has been going on about visiting these islands for a couple years now. If I manage to make it to NFLD in the next couple months I’d love to try and make a stop there. I wish I ate as good as the French… Back to my bowl of 2-minute noodles. lol.

    • April 11 2010

      Hahahaha, god the food was amazing. I need to get back to those bakeries.

  • April 10 2010

    I agree, Tourism Canada should be reading this. Come on, give er’ the job. You write more about Canada than I do. Hmm…note to self. :)

    • April 11 2010

      Hehe thanks Jeannie! I’m pretty stoked ya’ll think so.

  • April 10 2010
    FromThere

    Hi Candice,
    You can find more beautiful pictures of Saint-Pierre in this website http://www.baleinesetcompagnie.com
    Cheers

    • April 11 2010

      Love it, thanks so much for the resource!

  • April 11 2010

    So cool! A school-aged Candice, I can only imagine! I also got my first passport for a trip to France. I’ll never know how I talked my parents into letting me go to Paris and London with a bunch of high-schoolers when I was barely 12. I caused so much trouble! Still trying to wrap my brain around their being a few thousand people on some islands near you using the euro. What a cool trip!

    • April 11 2010

      Insane eh?! And gawd, I was a total loser as a kid, although it actually benefitted me in this case…a bunch of my classmates snuck into a pub for a few drinks and were then caught by one of my teachers. They were banned from participating in any of the other activities on the trip, including the disco!

  • April 12 2010

    That island sounds wonderful. Seems pretty crazy to me that they use Euros. How long were you there?

    • April 14 2010

      About three days, on two separate ocassions…I actually haven’t even been to Miquelon yet!

  • April 12 2010

    “Me and a few girls stayed with a little old lady named Madame Luberry. We adored her food — the rich butter, the salads with vinaigrette sauces — and watching Friends dubbed with French. There was an albino lobster mounted on the wall in her living room.”

    That sounds divine. $40 worth of baked goods? That sounds like something I would do.

    • April 14 2010

      Hehe, I’d do it again if I had the chance.

  • April 12 2010

    St. Pierre and Miquelon have always been on my wish list but as you say they are so far off the beaten path that it may be awhile.
    I’ll be visiting the Iles de la Madeleine this summer and hoping that the food will be in line with the calibre of your St. Pierre experience.

    • April 14 2010

      Very off the beaten path, even for me…and I’m just a few hours away. Iles de la Madeleine? I don’t believe I’ve heard of those…

  • April 12 2010

    Wow, St. Pierre et Miquelon sounds so cool. I”m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never even heard of those islands. One day when I make it to Newfoundland, I’m definitely going to have to take the ferry over.

    • April 14 2010

      Trust me, you’re not the only one to have not heard of them! Even people I’ve talked to in other parts of Atlantic Canada don’t realize they’re there.

  • April 18 2010

    First heard of these when I was biking around Cape Breton in 2008. Cool to learn more here.

    • April 21 2010

      Currently plotting a trip back…mmm, baguettes.

  • April 27 2010
    Nathalie

    Hi, I am glad you enjoy your visit on the islands. I was born there and now live in Canada. Just wanted to let you know that Madame Luberry(my aunt and god mother) past away in Paris last summer. I was at her funeral in Saint-Pierre this summer and I agree with you; she was a wonderful and extraordinary woman. I am so happy that I got the chance to see her the summer before in Saint-pierre. She was already an angel on earth!!

  • February 14 2013
    Elizabeth

    Wow small world hey ,to the poster Nathalie.

    Ya , my friend had told me about this at work, and i had to look into this.
    I currently live in Newfoundland, and i haven’t been there but i wan`t to go !
    I didn’t know it wasent that far from me, so hopefully i will go there soon.
    By the way you summed it all up really good .

  • February 14 2013
    Elizabeth

    Wow small world hey ,to the poster Nathalie.

    Ya , my friend had told me about this at work, and i had to look into this.
    I currently live in Newfoundland, and i haven’t been there but i wan`t to go !
    I didn’t know it wasent that far from me, so hopefully i will go there soon.
    By the way you summed it all up really good .

  • November 13 2015

    This article is exactly what I’m looking for! I write a blog mainly about France and over the last 6 months or so I’ve been running a series of guest posts on what I’ve titled “far-flung France” ie the overseas territories. So far I’ve covered nearly all, with Guadeloupe, St Martin, Martinique, Mayotte, Guyana, Polynesia and Réunion, but it’s not so easy to find bloggers who’ve been to SPM. And you have! Is there any chance you would write something for me? I’ll send you a private email.

    • November 13 2015
      Candice

      Hey Phoebe! Feel free to email me at hello@freecandie.com and I’ll see if I can answer your questions

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

FREE CANDIE FOR ALL!
SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE POSTS DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX