Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2006/18 posted by hidden europe on

Saint-Pierre et Miquelon is a little part of Europe outside Europe, territorial outposts of France that speak French and use the euro as their standard currency; they are vestiges of a once rich French presence in North America. With a population of some six thousand, mainly on the largest island (Saint-Pierre), the islands have long since abandoned their over-reliance on fishing to create a more diverse economy that fosters agriculture and tourism.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Today (14 July) is Bastille Day, France's fête nationale, marked not just by great displays in Paris' Champs-Élysées, but by festivities in all of France's départments and overseas collectivities. So the tiny French islands off the coast of Newfoundland (eastern Canada) celebrate Bastille Day with every bit as much verve as ever it is marked in Lille or Lyon. Saint-Pierre et Miquelon is a little part of Europe outside Europe, territorial outposts of France that speak French and use the euro as their standard currency; they are vestiges of a once rich French presence in North America. With a population of some six thousand, mainly on the largest island (Saint-Pierre), the islands have long since abandoned their over-reliance on fishing to create a more diverse economy that fosters agriculture and tourism - and, like so many small political entities, the sale of colourful postage stamps that celebrate this remote island community's history, landscapes and culture.

Yet perceptive visitors who linger in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon find that all is not quite so French as they might have imagined. The telephone book lists family names like Arrossaména and Urtizberea which tell of a Basque connection. For these islands have indeed had their fair share of Basque settlers. Miquelon - the very name of the island is Basque - was an early seventeenth century Basque fishing outpost, and in the nineteenth century there was renewed emigration from Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) to both Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

So the Basque sport of Euskal pilota (pelote in French) is as popular in Saint-Pierre as in Euskal Herria, and Saint-Pierre has a fine example of a fronton, the sort of outdoor squash court on which the Basque ball game is played. Saint-Pierre's commitment to marking Bastille Day may not be in doubt, but expect even greater festivities next month, when the islanders have their annual Basque festival, which this year will celebrate the centenary of the construction of that great red fronton that stands in Saint-Pierre's Place Richard Briand.

These curious islands, bridges between Europe and North America, are not easily reached. The local airline, Air Saint-Pierre, provides a thrice weekly connection to both St John's (Newfoundland) and Halifax (Nova Scotia), and there is a weekly flight to Montréal. There are also occasional ferries run by SPM Express to Saint-Pierre from Fortune in Newfoundland.

hidden europe website

We are always tinkering with our website, making little improvements here and there. Last month we introduced a guestbook, and we have enhanced our newsletter archive by introducing printer friendly formats for our over forty past newsletters. Selected articles from the July 2006 issue of our magazine are available in pdf format for downloading (and will remain so until late next month). These include a short essay on central and eastern Europe banknotes, a report from the island of Corvo in the Azores and a review of some geopolitical oddities from the eastern Adriatic. For these, and the full table of contents of hidden europe 9, please click here.

Finally, we are also now offering a bundled set of all eight hidden europe back issues for €42.25 (GBP 29.25), including delivery anywhere in Europe. When it comes to postage rates, interestingly, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are unequivocally part of Europe!

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.