Nfld. & Labrador

St-Pierre ferry moving tourists but no cars, as dock dispute continues

The French territory's two brand new ferries still can't transport cars between the islands and Newfoundland.

Fortune's port authority responsible to cover cost of Newfoundland ferry landing upgrades

The French territory of St-Pierre-Miquelon has two brand new ferries, the Nordet and Suroit, but no way to load vehicles on the Newfoundland side. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The narrow streets of St-Pierre-Miquelon are filled with colourful houses and an easygoing European vibe, but six weeks after it launched its two brand new ferries able to carry traffic between the French territory and Newfoundland, there isn't a Canadian licence plate in sight.

A funding shortfall to upgrade the ferry landing in the small Burin Peninsula town of Fortune has left the $25-million ferries incapable of loading cars on the Newfoundland side.

"We have an important problem in Fortune", says Stéphane  Lenormand, president of St-Pierre-Miquelon's territorial government. 

"As of 2015, when we began building these new ferries, we approached the port authority in Fortune to prepare for their arrival. But unfortunately, in October of 2017, the project stalled because of a lack of financing."

Stephane Lenormand is president of the territorial government in St-Pierre-Miquelon. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The provincial and federal governments have kicked in a portion of the funding, but the rest — possibly as much as $2 million — must be raised by Fortune's volunteer-run port authority.

The Fortune Port Authority declined to comment to CBC News for this story, but Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell said the lack of a solution is hurting his community.

"All the pressure comes back on the port authority," he said. 

"They can get a loan to cover it [but] they're a volunteer committee of local fishermen who are not willing to put their financial state on the line, and they don't want to put the financial state of our port on the line."

St-Pierre-Miquelon is home to 6,000 people and two brand new ferries. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Lack of support

Despite the rocky start to the new ferry service, the president of the territorial government doesn't hold ill will towards the port authority on the other side.

"The port corporation is a volunteer organization handling a large economic development file," said Lenormand. 

"That's part of the problem. The file is very complex and this is a big sum of money for them."

For Penwell, it's becoming a frustrating problem without any further support from the provincial or federal government.

"It's been ongoing too long," he said. "The ferry is running. Work needs to be started. If we started work it would be next season really until we can handle traffic."

Gisele Lavergne-Brent and her husband, John, came from Saskatchewan to visit St-Pierre-Miquelon. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

'A car would have been nice'

Meanwhile, tourists are walking on the new boats and leaving their cars parked in Fortune, the same way the ferry service operated for decades with its old boats.

"The car would have been nice," said John Brent, while aboard the ferry with his wife, Gisele. The couple from Saskatchewan were on their way back to Fortune after a vacation in St-Pierre-Miquelon. 

"I think it would have added to the trip to see the area, to see more of the island than we did," Gisele said. "It would have definitely added a nice touch."

Business owners on St-Pierre-Miquelon are keen to see tourists arrive in vehicles to their island.

The self-governing territory has an area of 242 square kilometres and a population of around 6,000 people, mostly centred in the community of St-Pierre. It packs a piece of France into every corner of the islands, the locals say.

"We have kept our French culture," said Cathy Simon, a boutique owner. "People don't have to cross the Atlantic. France is a just over an hour from home."

The car decks aboard the St-Pierre-Miquelon ferries have been empty for every trip since the boats set sail six weeks ago. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

But despite St-Pierre-Miquelon's relatively small area, Simon said there is plenty to discover beyond walking distance.

"For Canadians it would be interesting to come with their cars, because even though the islands look small on the map, but there is a lot to see."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Chris O'Neill-Yates