According to recent archaeological discoveries, the islands were used as a seasonal base for over 8000 years by many native peoples including the Beothuk and the Paleo Eskimo.
The European fishery on the Grand Banks began over 500 years ago when explorer Giovanni Caboto claimed all that was needed to harvest codfish was to lower a basket into the sea.
The islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon were baptized the Eleven Thousand Virgins by Joao Alvarez Faguendes of Portugal in 1520, the Green Islands by the Corte Real brothers and the Island of Saint-Pierre by Jacques Cartier in 1536. By 1579, the island of Miquelon was given its name by Basque fishermen.
“Nous fumes ausdictes yles sainct Pierre, ou trouvasmes plusieurs navires, tant de France que de Bretaigne, depuis le jour sainct Bernabe, XIe de juing, jusques au XVIe jour dudict moys” – Jacques Cartier, June 1536
The Merchants of Saint-Malo
The French Merchants of Saint-Malo settled in Saint-Pierre in the late XVIIth century and established a very large curing and salting operation for codfish. The tribulations of war between France and Britain would put an end to the French colonies in Placentia Newfoundland and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and The treaty of Utrecht of 1713 forced Saint-Pierre’s inhabitants into exile in Isle Royale (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia).
“The Ifland is as subject to Fogs as any part in Newfoundland yes if we may credit the late Planters it is very convienient for catching and curing of Codfish” – James Cook, 1763
Treaties, war and deportation
The treaty of 1763 returned the islands of Saint-Pierre & Miquelon back to France, and despite the subsequent deportations of 1778 and 1793, the islands were once again returned to France in 1816.
“The French, it seems, are determined to lose no time in settling a colony at Miquelon and St Pierre.” – the LONDON GAZETTE, June 5 1783
The Golden Age of the Fishery
For the next hundred and eighty years, Saint-Pierre & Miquelon’s main industry remained the Cod Fishery.
“St Pierre was once the liveliest fishing port in the world. The eighties of the last century beheld its greatest prosperity. In those days seven to eight thousand fisheman from St Malo, Fécamp, St Brieuc, and Dieppe, and the arrival of the Terre Neuves, the vessels and crews from France, was a wondrous, treasure producing event. The French and St Pierre armateurs, or outfitters, reaped golden harvests indeed.” – Isles of Romance, George Allan England, 1929.
The World Wars
During both World Wars, the inhabitants of Saint-Pierre & Miquelon showed a very strong sense of sacrifice. Over a quarter of Saint-Pierre & Miquelon’s conscripts died in World War I, and in World War II, the islands rallied De Gaulle’s Free French in 1941.
Prohibition in the United-States caused a short lived period of prosperity and wealth for Saint-Pierre & Miquelon.
The Fishery today
Today, the Fishing Industry is changing and adapting itself to new realities. A young and dynamic population is dedicated to ensuring the future of this French enclave in North America.
For more information on the history of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, we recommend the GrandColombier website (in French).