We all know that Québec is the most French of Canadian provinces, but did you know that France actually retains a toehold in North America?
The tales of the fur-trading voyageurs of the 17th and 18th Centuries are better known, but French fishermen held great swaths of Atlantic Maritime Canada well into the 20th Century.
Evidence remains in place names — such as towns along the French Coast of Newfoundland — and in the Overseas Department of France known as St. Pierre and Miquelon. Just an hour by ferry south of Newfoundland, this archipelago is Francophone, uses the Euro, has a French telephone country code and offers only two-round-plug European electrical outlets.
Of course I had to go there when I was on a driving tour of Newfoundland. I made ferry reservations and hotel reservations for Auberge St. Pierre. I set out on the 3-1/2 hour journey from St. John’s, the capital, to the ferry port in Fortune, a seaside village of less than 1,500.
I arrived to discover that the ferry (there’s only one) had been cancelled due to high winds. The clerk in the ferry office reissued my transit ticket for the next day and found me a motel room nearby for the night.
The next morning’s ferry departed as scheduled, and soon we motored into the harbor at Saint Pierre, the largest city on St. Pierre island.
I’d made reservations at Auberge Saint-Pierre, 16 rue Georges Daguerre, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, which included ferry pickup (cancelled ferries are routine, so my arrival a day late was expected). Like most island accommodations, it’s a bit pricey (my standard plus room was 139 euros).
The auberge (“inn” in English) is a reconfigured house in the midst of a residential district a few blocks from the harbor. Family-run, it’s at once cozy and hospitable (you know you’re in France when the in-room amenity is a bottle of wine). The WiFi is free and fast.
Because it’s a small property, it’s easy to get to know the other guests (we brought our wine glasses into the lounge and got acquainted).
As part of the stay, the hosts offer a guided tour of the island, driving guests in a minivan to great vantage points and discussing the history. It’s clear that there’s virtually no commercial activity on St. Pierre outside of tourism. Once upon a time, it was a fishing village — but everyone by now knows about the collapse of the cod.
There’s not much to “do” on St. Pierre. Everything closes for lunch (even most of the restaurants are shuttered from noon to 2 p.m.). There are few shops and the small museum in town has signage only in French. That said, walking through town and hiking in the hinterlands is pleasant.
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(Photos and review by Susan McKee)