Quiet Until Napoleon

Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Newfoundland
Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Newfoundland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Little noticed and seldom visited are the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off Burin Peninsula, south-west Newfoundland.  They are all that is left of the vast possessions France once held in North America.

France seemed glad to get rid of Canada through the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763, but she kept St. Pierre and Miquelon as bases for French fishing vessels.  fishing rights along the coasts were probably the most valuable thing Canada had to offer in those days.  Britain agreed to France’s retaining St. Pierre and Miquelon, provided they would be used only as fishing bases.  No fort could be built, and the police force was never to exceed fifty men.

France put the Baron de l’Espérance in charge of the islands on July 14, 1763.  Although many Acadians had drifted back to Canada after the expulsion of 1755, some of them refused to become British subjects.  The Baron de l’Espérance gave them land in St. Pierre-Miquelon, and hoped they would become good settlers.

This was a mistake.  The Acadians were farmers and the soil of the island was unsuitable for agriculture.  Many of them were so unhappy that they were taken to France.  They were unhappy in France too, and decided that the barren soil of St. Pierre-Miquelon was preferable to the tyranny and oppression in France in 1768.  So back they came!  A large number made a living by fishing and not farming.  Smuggling was a profitable sideline. When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Admiral Montague, Governor of Newfoundland, evacuated nearly 2,000 inhabitants of St. Pierre-Miquelon and sent them to France.  Most of them returned at the end of the war and there was quiet until Britain became involved in war again with Napoleon and the French Revolution.

Landscape of Miquelon.
Landscape of Miquelon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were even problems during World War II when France was governed by Vichy.  It was always possible to Germany would take over France completely, and that St. Pierre-Miquelon could be used as bases for submarines or spies.  The inhabitants were allowed to stay on the islands, but a proposal to build a powerful radio station was cancelled.

Gradually, St Pierre-Miquelon, through their direct link with old and new France, are becoming increasingly attractive to tourists.  the tourist trade will probably become the island’s most important source of revenue. To learn more about St. Pierre and Miquelon, I have a few places to suggest: a good place to start is at St. Pierre et Miquelon Tourism where they have lots in information and photos. I also suggest viewing a video on YouTube. It’ll give you a very good idea, I think, of what it is like there!


  1. My brother crews on a sailboat out of Halifax, and last year they did the St. Pierre-Miquelon race (which they won!). He had to have his passport up to date to be allowed on the island! It’s a pretty easy way to get to ‘France’ without having to go allll the way across the Atlantic. 🙂


    • I always encounter the islands as a footnote in World War II histories of the Battle of the Atlantic and the like, but never as more than that. I mean, it’s literally along the lines of “France continued to administrate the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon” and not anything about how the islands lived. Even the Channel Islands at least get some asides.


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