National Geographic : 1941 Dec
Islands Adrift: St. Pierre and Miquelon In a Key Position on the North Atlantic Air Route, France's Oldest Colony Rides Out Another Storm By FREDERIC K. ARNOLD OUT beyond the Gulf of St. Lawrence, only 15 miles off the southern coast of Newfoundland, lies France's oldest and smallest colony, the island group of St. Pierre and Miquelon. In a stormy, fog-ridden sea these lonely islands stand symbolically like a last outpost, all that remains of the once vast French em pire in North America. Their total area is about 90 square miles, their greatest overall length only 28 miles (map, page 746). Unlike other possessions of France, with their large native elements, St. Pierre and Miquelon are almost wholly French. The downfall of France, with the resultant cutting of the old close ties to the motherland, has hurt the islanders in heart and pocketbook. Gone are their European markets for cod, and war has delivered a body blow even to sale of European goods to cruise-ship passengers. We sailed to the islands from Montreal on a Canadian cargo liner which took five days to make the trip. As we headed out to sea from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, on the last 200-mile leg of the journey, the gun on the poop was held ready and the blackout was rigidly enforced. The next morning the islands were in sight, and soon we were sailing through La Baie, the channel four miles wide that separates the two main islands. Snow Dots Hills Even in June The morning was gray and cold, typical June weather here. On both sides abrupt cliffs rose from the sea. There was much more green than we had expected on these barren islands, but against it were contrasted many white patches where snow still remained among the crags. At our first sight of the town of St. Pierre our impression was one of surprise at its size. It is a thick cluster of houses crowded be tween the ocean and the "mountains," as the highlands are called, although the greatest elevation is only 671 feet. The streets run straight up from the water to the mountains, where they simply disappear. From the moment our ship came alongside the pier we were impressed by how French everything is. Below us were gendarmes and customs officials wearing the same uniforms as in France. Everywhere were dogs-large dogs of all sorts, but most of them resembling Newfoundlands in varying degrees (p. 759). Frenchmen first came to these islands more than 400 years ago. When Jacques Cartier stopped in 1536 on his way back to France from his second voyage, he found French fishermen on St. Pierre, which already bore this name. At the beginning of the 17th cen tury a real settlement was made. There is no record of how the islands got their names, although one may be tempted to think that St. Pierre was called so after St. Peter, protector of fishermen, and Miquelon is a Norman form of the name Michel, or Miguel, as it was called by the early Portu guese navigators. Isles a Shuttlecock in Many Wars Several times, in the wars between Britain and France, the colony passed into English hands and its whole population was deported. But each time these shuttlecock islands bounced back to the French, who have now held them since 1814. As soon as the customs formalities were dispatched (they consisted of a duty of 36 cents on my old portable typewriter), we rode by motor to a hotel. Our trunk followed presently on a two-wheeled dray in the care of a worthy known as Le Zebre (The Zebra), a nickname fastened on him years ago as the result of a practical joke in which his horse was painted with stripes. The town, we found, had three hotels and a small, respectable boardinghouse. Every where the basic rate for room and board (and the latter includes wine at St. Pierre) was two dollars a day. Hotel accounts are not reckoned in francs, since provisions must all be imported from Canada and America. Most of the buildings in the lower part of town are frame houses veneered with bricks or plastered with a smooth coat of stucco, which is generally painted yellow or reddish (page 748). Far more numerous, especially away from the downtown section, are clap board houses which are painted when the owner can afford it. Although one sees windows with sliding sashes (called guillotine windows), the French type is much commoner.