The last piece of Canada under French rule

Jean-Fran├žois Marin/Saint-Pierre and Miquelon Tourism

A mere sixteen miles off the coast of Newfoundland there lies an archipelago still under French sovereignty, 88 years since the Statute of Westminster guaranteed Canadian independence from Britain, and 256 years since the Treaty of Paris guaranteed it from France.

It was actually this same Treaty of Paris that returned the archipelago - known as Saint Pierre and Miquelon - to France in 1763, after the French gave up most of their other colonies across North America. Before this, the islands had been a British colony since 1713, and prior that a French one since 1670 (though they had been claimed by France as early as 1536, they were not permanently settled).

But even after 1763, during the American and French Revolutionary Wars, the archipelago went violently back and forth between French and British rule. Finally, in 1816 France established the colony which survives to this day, originally populated mostly with Basques (Basque was spoken by some in the colony as late as the 1950's), Bretons and Normans - but also various others, such as Newfoundlanders.

Bizarrely, in 1903 the colony toyed with the idea of joining the United States, and during Prohibition became a key route for rum-running. In the Second World War, when the French empire was divided between the German puppet state Vichy France and Charles de Gaulle's Free France, de Gaulle invaded Saint Pierre and Miquelon and took it from the Vichy French.

In 1958/59, like all French overseas territories, Saint Pierre and Miquelon was given the option to become an independent country within the "French Community" (effectively a failed French Commonwealth of Nations), or to become an integral part of France proper (an overseas department). Understandably due to its small size, Saint Pierre and Miquelon chose to remain a colony, though later became an overseas department from 1976 to 1985, before reverting to its colonial status.

Today, much of the fishing industry that nurtured the colony throughout its existence has dried up, leading to unemployment and economic stagnation. The land is barren and Arctic, forbidding the possibility of agriculture. Tourism may be an avenue of opportunity for Saint Pierre and Miquelon. It is, after all, a little piece of France in North America. It is not the only French territory in the Americas; but France's Caribbean and South American colonies generally have their own unique regional cultures, while Saint Pierre and Miquelon, though undoubtedly unique, is far more culturally similar to mainland France. That said, the islands are difficult to access; it would be easier for North American francophiles to visit Quebec, or even mainland France itself.

Personally, little territorial quirks like this fascinate me greatly. It's charming to think that on a clear day in Newfoundland, one might just be able to see the last vestige of French colonial rule in North America on the horizon.