Saint-Pierre et Miquelon: France's best-kept secret in North America
Allya Davidson, W5 Producer
Published Saturday, September 29, 2018 7:00AM EDT
Fortune, Newfoundland (population 1,458) is a sleepy maritime town on the southeastern boundary of the bay that shares its name.
The former fishing hub is the site of an unlikely border crossing - into Europe. Just 30 km across Fortune Bay sits a little-known bit of France in North America: The 6,000 person archipelago Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.
A 90-minute ferry ride takes tourists to France, complete with EU passports, Euros and bakeries.
Like its Canadian neighbour Fortune, the islands have a long history as a thriving fishing community.
Memorial University of Newfoundland archaeology professor Dr. Catherine Losier has spent several summers on Saint-Pierre and tells W5, “we have three hundred and fifty years of European occupation.”
The site of Dr. Losier’s dig, Anse à Bertrand, has shed light onto how fishermen from hundreds of years ago lived, when the area was something of an international hub.
“We have white wares, tea cups, plates, those kinds of objects, that are more a testimony of family occupation of Anse à Bertrand, and those objects come from France," says Losier. "We have stoneware from probably the Maritimes or New England; objects from elsewhere in Canada; smoking pipes from Europe.”
Today, Saint-Pierre is still an international meeting point, and not just for fishing. A new direct flight from Paris to Saint-Pierre launched in July 2018 in an effort to boost tourism and flights to Halifax leave daily.
The local government recently invested in two brand-new ferries which are equipped to carry cars. For the first time, tourists would be able to drive their cars onto the boat in Canada, and drive off in France.
But there’s one small problem: the port in Fortune isn’t equipped for car traffic and it would cost about $1 million to have it upgraded.
For Stephane Lenormand, President of the Territorial Counsel in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, upgrading the wharf in Fortune is a top priority. “We’ve taken some steps, but it’s a country to country negotiation,” he tells W5.
Lenormard is determined to have a solution by the end of 2018. If an agreement can’t be reached, he has a Plan B:
“The Canadian government has confirmed its desire that Fortune remain the port to St. Pierre and Miquelon. I accept that, but, I won’t indefinitely if I see that we’re not moving forward. I must find a solution by the end of 2018. Otherwise, I can go to the Grand Banks. I know the port of Grand Banks well so I don’t want to wait any longer if I can’t find a solution with Fortune.”
While the option to bring personal cars to the islands is still up in the air, Saint-Pierre is still pushing itself as a tourist destination -- a source for small-town French culture and wine that’s visible from Newfoundland.
And during Bastille Day celebrations, it seems to be working.
The town square is filled with locals, but also visitors from mainland France, the United States, Asia and of course their neighbours from just across the water, Canadians.
The unlikely and little-known Canada-France border crossing in Fortune, Nfld.
Watch W5's documentary 'Petite France' Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV