NINE miles from
Newfoundland lies Sainte Pierre et Miquelon, Island Colony of France,
her last remaining colonial possession in the "New World", north of the
geographically, in the group of island stepping-stones, a stone's throw,
a night out of North Sydney.
It is attended by "an
old character" among sea-going craft, by name "Pro Patria", which has
been on the route between Halifax and Saint Pierre for perhaps more than
a quarter of a century. She is little and worn and old, so that when she
came in to the wharf on the morning of our sailing we were afraid to
board her. But after awhile, seeing that the world around took her as a
matter of course, we stepped across the little gang-plank, into a medley
of general cargo, including several sheep on foot. Next morning we were
at Saint Pierre, the harbour which has made it worth while to France to
keep these "little rocky island-waifs of the western Atlantic."
Rounding Cap 1'Aigle, a
little Saint Malo lies outspread before us. And from the mastheads of
shipping at anchor, the tri-color of France waves spiritedly in the
The "Pro Patria" drew
up at the Quai de la Ronciere. The Quai was black with the crowd come to
witness her coming and to welcome old friends among the new arrivals.
All the maisons and
shops about the Square that faces the Quai, have steep roofs like the
parent roofs back in France and like their sisters in Quebec. On the way
to the door of Madame Coste's pension, which had been recommended, we
passed the door of "The -Trans-Atlantic -Cable", which lifts its western
end out of the water here, and saw the little, yellow telegraph blank in
a frame outside the door—the little sheet that is Saint Pierre's one
daily newspaper—a small "daily" this, but one the truth of whose news is
wholly to be relied on. Every morning saw us reading the news with
tout-le-monde gathered in front of this journal, itself literally wet
and dripping from the Ocean! Marine Intelligence, indeed.
One of the earliest
"signs" seen in a grocer's window, read "Beurre frais de Cheticamp a
vendre". We looked out on it from our casement window at Madame C's. And
though "France" was written in every line of street, in every shop
window, in the great feather bed on which we slept, on the smaller one
with which we were supposed to cover ourselves, who could feel
themselves cut off in a foreign world, with Cape Breton speaking each
morning, just across the way? And when we started out anew each day, a
little water-soaked schooner as often as not came gliding in to the Quai
with "Down North" and "Up Along" written in every line from masthead to
water-line. Ottawa, Saint Pierre and Saint John's may be far apart, but
Lamaline in Newfoundland, Cape North to Chcticamp, C.B., and Saint
Pierre are as "The Three Musketeers" for brotherhood, drawn together by
the ties of Trade, and the adventure that lies in "smuggling".
We had not been long at
Saint Pierre before we began to realize that the arrival of the little
coastal Noah's Arks with their floating menageries, the pigs grunting,
cocks crowing, sheep too stunned to bleat, made a difference in our own
menus. Madame C. chuckled whenever we were able to report a fresh
arrival at the Quai.
Other old acquaintances
beside these coasters were not long in coming to light. Cod is here,
answering to the elegant title of "Monsieur Morue". Boats for his
capture are rated in this island fleet as bateaux.
France operates on the
"Grand Banks''; Saint Malo at home, and Saint Pierre on the West, being
her "bases'.' But the fish-trade of Saint Pierre is not what it was when
ten thousand fishermen came here every Spring to re-fit the "Bankers"
put into winter-quarters here the previous Autumn. Most of the fish now
goes to France "green", the dinner tables of the world calling for more
fresh fish than of old. Still, now and again the steam trawlers come
here, and there's always a cargo or two in "the making" on lie aux
Chiens, as well as on the south shore of the harbour.
It is over there across
the harbour that one sees the fishwives and the women stevedores—women
who take the fish in hand the day it comes from the boats and put it
through every process up to the stowing in the transport's hold. The
master-stevedore chants the number of fish passing through her hands in
a loud, clear voice heard across the harbour. She has evolved a dirge, a
rich Litany to fish, "Un", "deux", "trois", "quatre", "cinq", etc., as
they go headlong to their last ocean voyage.
On lie aux Chiens,
women meet the incoming dories and aid in splitting and cleaning la
morue. Strong personality and sweet womanhood mark these island women.
There are no
trolley-lines in Saint Pierre and but few voitures. The ox-cart is here,
attendant on the Salt Vessels, carrying off the salt from them to the
warehouses. It is a decidedly French cart, with high sides. And the oxen
wear a curious neck-yoke adorned with a fluffy sheep-skin. A French
driver urges the oxen to move, with many a "Marche done".
Not the least
interesting sights on Saint Pierre streets arc the gay uniforms of the
gendarmes. But even these give place to the little dog-carts everywhere,
looking as if they had been trans- planted out of Belgium.
Two important and
rather unique landmarks stand out at Saint Pierre above all others; one,
the figure of the Blessed Virgin, life size, set in a deep niche of the
cliff-side; the other, a huge Crucifix, mounted high on a slim wooden
Cross, standing on the hills above the town, and silhouetted clear and
strong against the sky.
Many stories centre
around the origin of this cross. Some say it was erected by the citizens
to show their gratitude for a miraculous preservation at the time of
some great winter storm; others, that it was erected in order that
sailors leaving port might be reminded to turn their thoughts and
prayers to Him, Who alone has power to still the waves and give
prosperity. Still another story runs, that it is for sailors entering
port, to remind them to return thanks to Him Who has brought them safely
out of dangers and given them, perhaps in addition, "a good catch". To
those who have lost—it points the only Comforter.
The street passing
under the shadow of this Cross goes by the distinctive name of Rue
Calvaire. It is not surprising, therefore, to have some fishwife, whose
photograph you have just taken, tell you, when asked for her address,
that she lives "up ag'in the Cross"; that is, if she is of Newfoundland
origin, and speaks English; if she is French, " 'Rue Calvaire', Madame,
s'il vous plait"— the street of the Cross.
The women of Saint
Pierre wash their clothes in the streams, of which there are several
running down the hills at the back of the town. They dam up the water
with stones so as to form little pools, and kneel in wooden boxes on the
edge of these to wash. They slap the linen with a flat piece of wood to
make it very clean and white, and when all is done, they carry it in a
wet bundle on their backs up the hill, to spread it to dry on the great
rocks at the foot of the Crucifix.
A long way below this
curious landmark of the hills, lies the cemetery, one of the most
beautiful spots in Saint Pierre. It has been made so by a great deal of
work, for so solid is the barren rock here that each grave has had to be
blasted out with charge after charge of dynamite. But in the end each
grave is surrounded by a wooden coping surmounted at one end by a wooden
cross painted black or white. The coping is filled in with earth sifted
from the debris of the blasts or brought from a distance. In these
enclosures flowers are massed till the entire cemetery has the
appearance of one great garden.
Love of flowers is a
marked characteristic of the Saint Pierrais people. Though there is
practically no soil in the place, every window is a mass of potted
blooms. All these lilies, geraniums, oleanders, cacti, begonias, etc.,
were brought from France. It is even said that the soil in one little
garden was brought here from France. Every Saturday morning a little boy
goes the rounds of the pensions and perhaps the cafes, on his arm a
small basket with a few nosegays of sweet old-fashioned flowers. And
these are bought up at once.
The central building of
interest in Saint Pierre is the fine white church, built to replace the
old Cathedral destroyed by fire several years ago, together with the
Palais du Justice.
The new church
possesses rare and valuable appointments. The stained glass windows,
most of them with Biblical motifs having to do with the sea, are
supported by rich altar appoint- ments; but the note of originality is
struck by the score or more of tiny sailboats and schooners which hang
gracefully on wires suspended from the ceiling.
These miniature craft
appear especially appropriate in this church that owes its being to the
sea. Each little boat is of course the votive offering of some grateful
mariner for miraculous preservation in some great hurricane, collision
or shipwreck, while pursuing la morue in one of its many haunts,
immediately off-shore or on the Grand Banks.
The Cure of this church
has possibly the best garden in town. And morning and evening he may be
seen—a gardener in a soutane—doing his best to coax along the flowers
and vegetables. Mais, oui.
The celebration of La
Messe and "Benediction" in this French-Colonial church is attended with
an unusual degree of pomp and ceremony. A military air of precision is
supplied by the commanding figure of Le Maitre de Chapelle wearing the
uniform and hat of a soldier of the Swiss Guard, carrying a battle-axe
over his shoulder, a sword by his side, and in his gloved right-hand a
tall, heavy black mace surmounted by a massive silver ball.
In the processions,
this imposing figure is followed by acolytes in crimson and white gowns,
each carrying a pole supporting a red, violet, or blue lantern.
The music is wonderful,
the "time" being kept by the "Suisse", who also precedes the two
demoiselles down the aisles when they take up the collection.
The church is situated
at the opposite end of the town from the cemetery and, whenever there is
a funeral, the procession passes afoot, heralded by a small boy with a
beautiful voice, singing so ringingly the solemn chants set for these
occasions, that he can be heard far across the harbour and distant
points of the town, from which by reason of turns in the streets the
procession itself is invisible.
Because of the
geographical situation of the Saint Pierre et Miquelon group, and the
fact that they are a French Colony, conditions are found here, possible
French wines and
liqueurs flow here as naturally as in France itself. Prohibition in
Canada and the United States has made this font of wines so close to the
coast "a gift of the gods". Smugglers deem it a good "base" from which
to operate "spirits" in general. In this new trade, agents of the best
Old Country distilleries have opened salesrooms here and consignments
and cargoes are constantly coming and going or being placed in
warehouses to await their chance of re-shipment.
In the cafes of Saint
Pierre there is every variety of French wine. In all the general shops,
on shelves, neighbouring dress material, sardines-in-oil, or petits pots
in tins, Vin ordinaire, Cassia, Eau de Vie, Ginebvre, Anisette and
Noyeaux appear as a matter of course.
During the war, trade
came almost to a stand-still in Saint Pierre. The shops, usually so
overflowing with good things, had their stock entirely depleted, and the
women storekeepers were reduced to tears, as they lamented "La guerre,
la guerre, Madame", as the cause of their inability to supply this or
But now all this is
changed. The Sun of Trade once more has sent its enlivening rays along
this foreign, island-waterfront. Gallic spirits have recovered
themselves in the forests of masts springing up in the harbour.