Nfld. & Labrador

Cars can now board ferry to St-Pierre-Miquelon, as Fortune wharf project complete

It took six years and a million-dollar deal between France and Canada, but passenger vehicles from the archipelago can now roll right into Newfoundland.

6-year project faced funding delays, but wharf construction nearly complete

A wharf overhaul in Fortune now permits passenger vehicles to disembark in Newfoundland from the French territory of St-Pierre-Miquelon. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The docks of Fortune, N.L., are now capable of welcoming a stream of vehicle traffic to the French territory of St-Pierre-Miquelon, the town announced Friday, bringing an end to transportation headaches on both sides of the border.

The occasion marks a new chapter for the two communities, which just two years ago found themselves caught in a stalemate, with St-Pierre's new $50-million ferries rendered essentially useless by Fortune's small wharf, which before Friday couldn't handle vehicle traffic.

The renovation project has been in the works for nearly six years, since the town began applying for funding, said Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell.

"It's taken a long time to get to where we are," he told The St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

When the territory bought its new ferries, a funding shortfall meant residents couldn't disembark on the Fortune side, Penwell explained, as there wasn't enough room in the existing wharf for ferries to back up. 

Now, the town has secured an extension to the docks, a drive-thru customs and inspection area, and a ramp, allowing two-way traffic between Newfoundland and the archipelago.

The two communities reached a deal in 2019, with St-Pierre-Miquelon kicking in just under $1 million for the upgrades. Fortune's port authority and the federal government each matched that contribution, with the provincial government offering up another $500,000.

Construction began last summer, sped along, Penwell said, by border restrictions.

"There was really no interference from the boat coming every day, so they were able to do their work straightforward," he said.

Previously, St-Pierre residents could ship their cars to Newfoundland as freight on a weekly passage and keep them in Canada for the summer. "They could come in and drive around Newfoundland," Penwell said, "but they had to keep their vehicle here."

The Fortune wharf wasn't a busy place on Friday, when the territorial council president is scheduled to mark the end of the project by driving off the ferry, despite border restrictions. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The wharf now permits day trips and inexpensive journeys, he said — and will offer tourists the same convenience.

"We're certainly hoping it'll encourage more people to come to Fortune … and the Burin Peninsula in particular and spend some time here," he said. The ferries could also carry more freight, sending goods through Fortune instead of Halifax and increasing commerce in the region.

Stephanie Bowring, who was raised in St-Pierre and now lives in St. John's, said she won't have to borrow her mother's car on visits any longer.

"There aren't that many roads in St-Pierre, but there are in Miquelon," she said — 25 kilometres of them, which isn't much fun, for some people, to traverse on foot.

St-Pierre-Miquelon is home to 6,000 people. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"It would make it that much easier to decide [to visit] whenever," without needing to figure out transportation logistics, Bowring said. "It's good for tourists also, to be able to have that kind of spontaneity."

Bernard Briand, president of St-Pierre-Miquelon's territorial council, was scheduled to show off the expansion by driving off the ferry in Fortune on Friday morning.

Instead, ferry worker Karl Beauperthuis — behind the wheel of a St-Pierre-plated sedan— was the first to roll onto the dock, with territory officials watching from the boat's deck.

Beauperthuis was only permitted a short loop of the wharf due to national border restrictions. Briand addressed the crowd briefly from the end of the ferry ramp through a megaphone, noting the archipelago's desire to join the Atlantic bubble in his celebratory speech.

Federal pandemic restrictions have prevented St-Pierre-Miquelon residents from entering Canada since last year. The territory is lobbying for an exception.

The 55-metre ferries can carry up to 15 cars and three transport trucks each.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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