Nfld. & Labrador

The 2 sides of St-Pierre-Miquelon: A Land & Sea archival special

Tourists have long enjoyed the French-owned islands off Newfoundland's coast, but they only got part of the story.

From 1986: An episode about the French-owned islands south of Newfoundland

Tourists enjoy St-Pierre but may not get the full picture of the community, where the inshore cod fishery was struggling. (Land & Sea 1986)

St-Pierre is part of a group of French islands lying just off the southern coast of Newfoundland.

In 1986, and still today, it was a popular destination for Canadian and American tourists who visited for a taste of French food and culture closer to home — and was the subject of this Land & Sea episode, which we present from our archives. 

However, there was another side of the island too, one with both a struggling fishery and people getting by on ingenuity and craftsmanship. 

A failing inshore fishery

American tourists who might otherwise head to Europe in the summer came to St-Pierre instead, avoiding concerns about the value of the dollar and terrorism a continent over. 

Prices in St-Pierre weren't as low as they once were but deals — and hospitality — could still be found.

Inshore fishermen like Rene Louberry were able to get by thanks to St-Pierre's generous social security system. (Land & Sea 1986)

General stores sold French chocolates and candy, and liquors of all types were a popular choice to bring home. 

But fishing was still the mainstay industry for the island, not tourism, even if that industry was currently in tough times.

Fishermen like Rene Louberry, still using the traditional St-Pierre dory, used to be able to expect to catch 3,000 pounds of cod a day. By this time, 200 pounds would be a big haul.

Watch this archival episode of Land & Sea:

If it weren't for the island's generous social system, survival for Louberry and others like him would be impossible. Times were even hard for the boats themselves; it had been five years since a new St-Pierre dory had been made on the island.

Using the whole fish

Trawler boats were still doing well, and fish plants had become St-Pierre's main employer. Some of the cod unloaded off draggers at the wharf was salted for the Spanish and Portuguese markets, but the rest wasn't thrown to the gulls as it would be in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Part of making money from cod meant using all of the fish. This soup, popular in France, used parts leftover after filleting the fish. (Land & Sea 1986)

Parts left over after getting the cod fillets was packaged as soup. Cod heads were processed for Portugal, and sounds and stomachs for Asian markets, where they fetched good prices.

Just as Asian markets don't want Camembert cheese, products thought of as inedible in St. Pierre could be sold elsewhere, Andre Guérin said. "The cod is the pig of the sea, you know? You can use everything." (Land & Sea 1986)

Irma Bougier, had a cottage industry making jewelry holders, ties and coin purses out of cod skins. And Bernard Paterelle made some of the world's best smoked salmon on St-Pierre from fish caught off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Irma Bougier made these items by tanning cod skins, designing goods and then producing the goods herself. (Land & Sea 1986)

For more archival Land & Sea episodes, visit the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador YouTube page.

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