The two tiny islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon lie in the rough Atlantic off the Canadian east coast. They are the last bastions of France in North America, the last remains of colonial possessions – and the six thousand egg inhabitants are incredibly proud of them.
Mademoiselle dreams of a large Airbus that flies directly to Paris without the annoying detour via Canada. And she considers such a heavy aircraft appropriate, even though only six thousand and three hundred citizens live on St-Pierre-et-Miquelon. After all, Paris has been carried away by completely different investments since the North Atlantic island team became a full member of the Grande Nation. For the time being, however, only four-legged animals fly non-stop to Europe after a six-month compulsory stay: llamas, alpacas and other hoofed animals from the camellia family.
After a one-and-a-half-hour crossing by ferry from Newfoundland, Europe is suddenly very close. The small archipelago looks as if it has been broken off piece by piece from Finisterre in Brittany and drifted four thousand five hundred kilometres far west to the true end of the world. Behind the pier you suddenly feel as if you have been transferred to the French province. On the Place du Général de Gaulle, a children’s carousel surrounded by mothers and grandparents turns. Girls ride white horses, boys swing the bell of the red fire engine. A little further on, the road winds around a beautifully planted Peugeot and Renault roundabout. And near the hospital, teenagers play pelota on a custom-made fronton full of devotion. Just behind the harbour there is a smell of France. From a bakery an enticing scent of brioche and croissant flows, and quickly a queue has formed in front of the sales counter.
Islands without crime
While the bus is playing Musette music at walking pace along the ten kilometre long coastal road to the other end of St-Pierre, Mademoiselle tells the astonished visitors about her high-flying dreams and presents the facts of the archipelago off the coast of Canada. Seven hundred inhabitants live on Miquelon, the largest island, the rest live on the smaller St-Pierre door to door and vis-à-vis in colourful wooden houses with cute porches. Thirty-five policemen from France spend three years on the 242 square kilometres to keep things in order. Mademoiselle parries that the stay with their families must seem like a holiday to the Flics, because crime hardly exists on the islands. Paradisiacal conditions also in the wage bag: the administrative employees, after all the majority of working citizens, earn forty percent more than their colleagues in France. In addition, flights to France and stamps are subsidized. Otherwise, everything on Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is the same as in the motherland. You can tell from the young island guide how proud she is to be French.
Most of her compatriots on the European continent know nothing about the North Atlantic love for the Grande Nation. Since 1985, the overseas territory has been able to boast the highest status of a “Collectivité territoriale de la République Française”. Already in 1536 Jacques Cartier requisitioned the archipelago in the name of King Francis the First. The Bretone was commissioned by the Crown to travel to Asia. When he couldn’t find it, he went elsewhere, hoisted the French flag on the shores of the east coast of Canada and took the tiny islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence with him on the way back. Since then, St-Pierre and Miquelon have been sailing under the tricolour and holding their positions. Since 1763, when the Seven Years’ War was lost overseas, the Atlantic archipelago has been the only remaining French post in North America. And like a spoiled only child, St-Pierre-et-Miquelon receives all the love and care of the motherland.
Thanks to Prohibition
In the harbour of St-Pierre there are few fishing boats. The old rowing boats moored at winds, the Dorys, are often only decoration. On the manicured lawns between the cannons couples cuddle. The cannons are only ignited when state guests arrive. Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, was given a fitting welcome in 1967 when he paid his respects to his loyal subjects on the way to the Montreal World Fair. After all, the archipelago had already declared its support for free France in 1941 and sent six hundred soldiers to London to fight with the general against Germany. Jacques Chirac came in 1999 to open the new airport. And when Sarkozy arrives, some of those who have given him their vote will ask themselves.
Above St-Pierre there is a cloud mountain range. High crushers whip the coast. Gusts of wind sweep into the manes of the horses plucking the grass on hills between pink rocks. It is too draughty for the limousines here, they are standing in the stable. The elegant villas, which line the end of the coastal road like arrogant divas, date back to the 1920s, when St-Pierre-et-Miquelon came out big: During Prohibition, the islands were a transshipment point for whisky distilled in Canada, mainly reloaded onto speedboats in St-Pierre and smuggled into the United States by these “rum runners”. Al Capone is also said to have been heavily involved.
Cuddles for the relatives
Although St-Pierre and Miquelon are relics of colonial times, unlike the Caribbean overseas territories there was never slavery, no blacks toil on plantations, no whites to act out. Nothing grows here. The only reason for France’s presence in the North Atlantic was fish. For centuries, Bretons, Normans and Basques made rich prey in the cod banks off Newfoundland. But one day the North Atlantic was plundered, in 1992 the emergency brake was applied and a ban on cod fishing was imposed. Today, exports amount to just one thousand five hundred tonnes of fish a year.
Why is France doing this? Why is the metropolis holding on to its unprofitable dépendance, to these inhospitable islands in the furthest corner of the world? National pride may be an important reason, and the memory of the glorious times of the French Empire. Such a bastion on the American continent, in which the French language and culture can be cultivated, is not given up lightly after all – not to mention the fact that one does not simply drop one’s kinship like a hot potato.
The tousled Gallic cock
After all, the relatives honestly try not to be as hard on the motherland’s pocket as they used to be. The new airport, which cost the French state a hundred million dollars, has a key role to play. To Mademoiselle’s regret, so far only twin-engine propeller aircraft have taken off for Canada and only cargo aircraft for Europe. But that could change one day. As part of the European Union, St-Pierre-et-Miquelon has an unbeatable competitive advantage: Canadian companies can now be lured into using the islands as a stepping stone to Europe. With a branch in the French overseas territory, import duties can be avoided. The quarantine station for South American biungulates approved by the European Commission also fits perfectly into the economic puzzle. But one would also like more from bipeds. The goal is to double the number of twelve thousand tourists per year to date.