A Travellerspoint blog

October 2020

Off to France

St. Pierre and Miquelon, Grand Bank, Fortune and St. Lawrence

I have taken you all around the island of Newfoundland and even up to Labrador on our journey to see the lighthouses and fantastic scenery of our beautiful province. To finish off the tour, we are actually going to France. Really? All the way to France? How does that fit into a blog about the lighthouses of Newfoundland and Labrador? And how do you get to France from here?

Well, the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon are a piece of France that sits a mere 25 kilometres away from Newfoundland. And since I am trying to entice you to visit Newfoundland, I want you to know that you can add a little French flavour to your visit.

Flying to St. Pierre from St. John’s is possible, but most visitors drive. For our trip we are taking the four-hour drive to the ferry and after an hour or so on the water, vous êtes là. You must pass through customs and immigration since you are entering the EU. Canadians get in easily, not sure about Americans and those now "independent" folks from the UK. Once through, proceed directly to a nice restaurant for some French food and wine. Or, if it is a bit early for you, pop into a bakery for some genuine croissants and baguettes. It will still feel somewhat like Newfoundland, but at the same time you know that you are in Europe.

The ferry leaves from a town called Fortune on the Burin Peninsula. The Burin sticks out from the south side of the island, kind of our version of the Italian boot.

We did our trip to France in 2012. We spent the night just up the road from Fortune in the adjacent town of Grand Bank. There we visited the Mariners' Memorial, dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives at sea and to those they left behind. The memorial is located in the garden of the George C. Harris House, a beautiful old heritage home that contains a museum of local history. I loved the widow's walk.

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The pond has plaques with the names of lost mariners.
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The woman represents the Newfoundland woman who lost their men. She is standing alone on the widow's walk, staring into the distance.
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This is the view of the town from the widow's walk.
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Some local fishers did not appreciate the way that Canada was handling foreign fishing fleets.
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The Grand Bank lighthouse gets great points for accessibility. It is right in the harbour.
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Fortune is about five minutes down the road. Here are some photographs of the town, taken the morning we left for France, and a few that were taken the following year.

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Now back to our trip to France, we have a ferry to catch. It was for passengers only. There were not many on that run.

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Apparently, the French have purchased two ferries that can transport cars, but the Newfoundland side needs upgrades to handle the boarding traffic. Part of the charm of St. Pierre will be lost with a car ferry since the cars on the island were shipped in from overseas. It was neat to see all the little Peugeots and Renaults on the streets.

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As the name suggests, there are two main islands. The smaller one is Île de Saint-Pierre, but most people live there. It also contains the main town of St. Pierre. Miquelon would have been good for hiking, but due to our short time and the foggy and rainy weather we chose to stay in St. Pierre.

We took a tour around the island of St. Pierre. I did not take many photographs since it was quite foggy.
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Afterwards we walked up and down the streets. The houses are painted in bright colours like St. John’s but with a slightly different twist or should I say stripes?
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Île aux Marins
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I was fascinated with the little structures on the outside of the houses, basically covered entranceways. I learned that they are called tambours. They were originally seasonal structures. Owners were required by law to remove them during the warmer months. Eventually the law allowed them to be permanent.
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I was so taken with them that I made sure that our new addition in Pouch Cove had one.
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We stayed at the Hotel Robert. There was a good restaurant (French of course) next door. We dined next to two Frenchman (from mainland France, not St. Pierre) who happened to be sailing around the world. We saw them the next day on our walk.

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We visited the museum on our second day. There we learned that the islands big glory days were back during prohibition times when smuggling was a big business. The crates that brought the liquor ended up as part of the houses. The bottles were brought to the island in crates and removed for the boat ride to the United States. They seemed quite proud of their history as smugglers. The activity has carried on into recent history on a smaller scale with liquor heading the short distance to Canada. Alcohol is much less expensive than in Canada, thanks to Canada’s high taxes on alcoholic beverages.
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I thought I had a great shot when I saw these young women wearing berets. They looked quite French. Later we met them on the ferry. They were students on a school trip, so just tourists like us.

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Of course, I have to mention lighthouses. We walked to the Pointe aux Canons Lighthouse.
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In the distance we could see the Île aux Marins lighthouse. Until 1931 the island was named the Île aux Chiens, so from dogs to sailors.
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After our two nights in France and the return ferry, we had to clear Canadian Customs. We were each allowed to bring back two bottles of wine or one bottle of whiskey. But our neighbor back in Pouch Cove had requested some Crown Royal whiskey. I could not say no. So there went two bottles of wine for us. When we passed through, I announced that I had two bottles of wine for me and one bottle of whiskey for my neighbour Herb. We were waived through without a look at our bags to see if we had a couple of bottles in there.

We arrived on the north side of the Burin on our way in. We went the other way to see the Fortune Head Lighthouse.

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Sometimes I stop to take photographs of the way to show how the Newfoundlanders decorate their properties.
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We visited the town of St. Lawrence.

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This gives me a chance to tell another story about the wonderful people of my adopted home. In an earlier post I mentioned how the town of Gander looked after thousands of stranded air passengers after the US closed its airspace on September 11, 2001. St. Lawrence has its own story. It was the place of a great rescue in 1942 when two US Navy ships ran aground. Men rushed to the site to help the survivors out of the raging and oily surf and up the steep cliff. They then brought them back for first aid and cleanup by the women.

The best part of the tale is that of a black sailor from Alabama named Lanier Phillips. He and the other sailors of colour were greatly afraid that they would be killed if they went ashore. The others stayed on board and paid with their lives. Lanier made it through the spilled marine fuel which coated he and the other sailors. He later woke to find himself being scrubbed by a local woman. She exclaimed that she could not get the oil off of him. He had to tell her that no scrubbing would change that. She had never seen a black man. He was initially frightened to find himself with a white woman and was certain that he would be punished, possibly killed. But he soon learned that he was safe. He was forever grateful to the kindness and respect that he received from the Newfoundlanders. It changed his life as he went on to a successful career in the Navy and became a civil rights advocate. He returned to Newfoundland several times. You can read about it here.

It was all told in a play, Oil and Water, that I have seen both in Toronto and in St. John’s. The play recounts the rescue but also the great toll that the local fluorspar mine had on the community. The rescuers were mostly miners. Most died early and painful deaths from their time in the mines which had little in the way of health and safety equipment.

If you have time, you can walk to the site of the rescue. We did not, and hope to do so one day, but did visit the Echoes of Valour
memorial.
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They are quite proud of their soccer teams in St. Lawrence. The town has been referred to as the 'Soccer Capital of Canada'. Their field is even listed as a Historic Place in Canada.

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Posted by Bob Brink 06:38 Archived in Canada Tagged lighthouses canada newfoundland st.pierre_&_miquelon Comments (3)

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