1902 – St. Pierre, Miquelon. New-York Tribune

New-York Tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 21, 1902

St. Pierre, Miquelon, Aug. 30 (Special).— There is only one St. Pierre to-day— the capital of the Miquelon Isles off the coast of Newfoundland.

Three months ago there existed the sister city of St. Pierre, Martinique, but we all know how It disappeared in the twinkling of an eye, overwhelmed by the rain of molten fire ejected by Mont Pelee. The Miquelon capital will never vanish in the same way. It is builded upon the solid rock. Grim and gaunt and sterile, its naked basalt ribs show plainly through its miserable clothing of soil. So scanty Is this that the graves have to be blasted in many instances out of the rock Itself. Straggling over the eastern slope of the islet, which is only five miles long by three wide, is the town itself. the centre of the French cod flshing industry on the Grand Banks. Though separated from the motherland by three thousand miles of water, the place is as essentially and distinctly French as If it were really part of la patrie.

This was conclusively proven by their celebration of the fete day of the republic. July 14. the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile, which occurred on our visit. Two warships were in port to do honor to it— the flagship Isly, black and grimy, and the cruiser D’Estrees, gleaming white, and just from Martinique, as if by way of contrast. The third of the squadron, the corvette Manche, is away patrolling the « French Snore » of Newfound land with the British squadron, where these two will follow when the round of affairs is at an end. From early morning the preparations for the day’s festivities were being actively enterprised. The town and shipping were gay with flags, and the citizens donned their smartest garb. Their picturesque dress becomes them well, the bright skirts, snowy blouses and Breton caps of the women contrasting with the flaming sashes and shirts and flat crowned berettas of the men, while the clink of the sabots adds a new note to the babel. Some seventy fishing schooners, each flaunting the tri color and many bannerets, occupied the inner harbor, while half as many large barks, also em ployed in the fisheries, share the open roadstead with the warships, the harbor being Impossible to shipping drawing over fourteen feet of water owing to a reef which blocks the fairway. Ten miles off the shore of Newfoundland shows clear in-the sun light, and in the offing the trim cruiser of that colony passes to and fro, keeping up her vigilant watch upon the bait smugglers.

Brave though the picture is. there is a false note in the rejoicings. The Pierrois are troubled over fishery complications, and the celebration was tinged with anxiety. It is unusual to find one hundred vessels in St. Pierre at the height of the fishing season, and one hears much of « ‘bait » and imprecations against the Newfoundlanders. One soon comes to learn that there is war between the Pierrois and them, none the less desperate because it is not waged with lethal weapons. The French men require bait for their fishing and cannot get it in quantity and fresh, except in the Newfound land harbors. But the Newfoundland Government, alive to the unwisdom of supplying a formidable competitor with the utensils of his trade, forbids the export of bait to the French and maintains cruisers and coast guards to enforce this law. The « Bait act, » as it is called, has been so successful that it has seriously affected the French fishing and greatly diminished the prosperity of St. Pierre. Various expedients have been tried to counteract, but without avail, and the situation this year is worse than ever. The French fleet has made poor catches and the lack of bait gives little prospect of better fares for the rest of the season. Hence the large gathering of vessels and the host of swarthy, grizzled fishermen who throng the narrow streets of the little town.

But the Pierrois are a light-hearted people, and as the day passes the spirit of enjoyment is decidedly more manifest. At noon the flagship fires a full salute, the gendarmes parade and the cathedral bells peal out. There are music at the square, races in the harbor, a reception at the Governor’s, and picnics everywhere. The six horses the place boasts, with the carriages appurtenant thereto, are pressed » into service and transport their owners and guests to some of the most favored spots, that they may pass the afternoon at the further ends of the islet. For St. Pierre is a « hot » town after nightfall on July 14. Judging from the antics of the crowd one would almost think that they were taking the Bastile all over again. The normal population Is about five thou sand, but it is doubled by the crews of the war ships and the fishing vessels on this occasion, and all those being men, and boisterous with enthusiasm and cheap brandy, it requires no effort of the Imagination to picture the street scenes. The cafes are « wide open » and the civic ordinance re quiring them to have « lights out » at 10 p. m. Is more honored in the breach than in the observance, on this night at least. Excitable and flamboyant as the French are at all times, this occasion works the Pierrois almost to frenzy, and bearded men are seen kissing and embracing one another, and weeping maudlin tears of friendship on one an other’s breasts.

When St. Pierre resumes its normal peace and sanity it is a most Interesting little town to study. It is unique; it has no counterpart in the world. For nearly two hundred years it has maintained ii.-elf here, In the midst of the North Atlantic, by its fishing Industry alone. The Miquelon colony comprises two other islets, Miquelon and Langlade, but they have only a few hundred settlers as they lack harbors. St. Pierre Is the capital solely because it possesses a harbor; otherwise it is more sterile than they. The town Is built of wood, faced with stucco on the main street, but the naked boards are visible everywhere else. All this timber had to be imported; there is not a tree as big as a gooseberry bush on the islet. Even the firewood Is obtained from the Newfoundland coast, being brought across in schooners and stacked high along the quay. If the Newfoundland Government were to shut off the supply of firewood they would put the Pierrois to almost as much inconvenience as by depriving them of bait. The houses are trim and neat, and the surroundings as dainty as is comfortable with such as industry as fishing. They are mostly built with windows opening doorlike, on the street, and almost all have little flower plots in bloom, or at least a box of brilliant greenery on the window sills. The streets have no sidewalks and are unpaved, but they are clean and sweet, as the fish curing is done outside the city. The hotels are really inns, old fashioned and comfortable, with candles as the illuminants in most cases, though the electric light has recently been introduced. The cookery Is French, with a suspicion of Newfoundland, but it is not difficult for the visitor to satisfy the de mands of hunger and thirst, especially the latter as the place boasts thirty-five cabarets.

St. Pierre is so difficult to reach that it rarely attracts visitors, though If some regular communication existed with it during the summer months it would attract many, because of Its very quaint ness. No custom house officers rifle your luggage no immigrant agents insult you with impertinent queries, no suspicious detectives dog your foot steps and you are safe from all inquiry unless you are suspected of being in the pay of the hated Newfoundland Government. in which case you would letter make your stay as short as possible as the Pierrois are apt to give vigorous expression to their antipathy But to all visitors they are kindness and hospitality personified. The summer weather is cool and agreeable, but the storms which sweep over the island in winter make it a place to be shunned then.

Its main Industry, as already explained. is the codfishery on the Grand Banks, around which It la set. This enterprise employs all the Pierrois and thousands of French fishermen besides About live hundred to the « French Shore » of Newfound! land every summer and fish their, being liberally bonused to do so. in order that France may ret an her hold on that coast. But the real fishery is on the Banks. Some scores of vessels come « across from Brittany every spring to these ledges direct only using St. Pierre to secure supplies and land the catch. The other branch of the business is centred at St. Pierre itself and carried on by craft owned there and partly crewed by men brought across from Bordeaux in steamers and then divided among the fishing fleet. This Bank Shin* has no international aspect, except that of bait but the Industry would be impossible under modern conditions, only that Franco assists it with a bounty for the purpose of making it a nursery erf sailors for her navy. This bounty enables the French to undersell the Newfoundlanders and the Bait act is a retaliation, to lessen the French catch This provokes trouble between the rival fishermen on the « French Shore. » compels the presence of two naval squadrons and forms the foundation for the vexatious dispute of which the world has heard so much.

St. Pierre is afflicted with a numerous and elaborate government, both municipal and provincial In the former category is the Municipal Council charged with civic affairs, and numerous bureaus intrusted with domestic questions. The provincial administration consists or the Governor, who is sent from France; his executive council who are he chief residents, and a general council, or legislature elected by the colonists. The Government is modelled, to a large extent, on the British System and besides the foregoing the place boats a full judiciary for criminal and civil business a special marine court for fishery case departments of marine and fisheries, Interior, finance religion, public instruction, shipping, board of charities and a gendarmerie of fifty men. This is the maximum allowed by the Treaty of Utrecht, which ceded St Pierre to France, and it is stipulated that they are not to be fortified. When some modern cannon were mounted there a few years ago the British flaghip was ordered onn there from St John’s to tell the Pierroes Governor that this was an In fraction of the treaty, and request their removal and this had to be done. Every year British cruisers drop in to pay their respects to the Governor and incidentally to that these guns have not been put in position again. They are undoubtedly stand In the arsenal for use when occasion demands, but the British gunboats have to be satisfied with the fact that they are not set up. The arsenal is one of the four stone buildings St. Pierre boasts— the others are the three in which the public departments are housed.

A visit to St. Pierre is not complete without an inspection of the « beaches, » where the codfish are dried. The fish. as they are taken on the Banks, are split open and cleaned, then they are washed free of blood, sprinkled with salt and packed in the hold. When the ship has a good fare or is out of halt she runs to St. Pierre, and the fish is then landed at the « beaches. » These are composed of round basalt stones, worn smooth by the action of the waves, and extend right around the island. The fish are again washed in large crates sunk in the surf, boatloads of cod being thrown in and stirred up with long poles, so that the process may be thorough. Then the fish are steeped in brine, after which they are spread over these broad, stony fields, to be dried by the wind and sun. This has « to be repeated daily, the fish being gathered up each evening to escape the dew, so the work calls for many hands, and here it is the women and youngsters find employment. The boys graduate to the cod fishery from here. Local « beach boys, as well as others from France, serve a two years apprenticeship at this work before joining the bankers. When fog comes on the fish that spread has to be gathered up also, and as fog is frequent there It makes the drying a tedious operation. Dry fish is piled in round heaps, and covered with tarpaulins: all other is made into oblong stacks When the fish is thoroughly dried it is put into stores or loaded into vessels for market. Every fish has to be handled separately each time bulk is broken, and probably it gets thirty different transfers between its landing and its marketing. When dry it is hard and white, looking like a slab of leather, except for its hue. St. Pierre exports every year about six hundred thousand hundred weight of codfish, valued at $2.000.000. The remainder of its trade is the result of smuggling, which is generally practised, New-England, Canada and Newfoundland being victimized to an almost incredible extent. If Newfoundland continues to balk the French in procuring bait, and the smugglers are harried as they have been of late, the prosperity of St. Pierre will speedily vanish.

Grand Colombier

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