The Suitcase Lady


July 16, 2019, 11:16 pm

Here’s a tricky trivia question. Where is the only place in North America where the Euro is the official currency?

You would have to travel to the tiny French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon about 12 miles off the southern coast of Newfoundland to spend those Euros. In a concession to their geographic location, the locals do accept both Canadian and American dollars.

France’s empire in the New World once covered a vast swath of land. At its peak in 1712, it extended from Newfoundland to the Canadian prairies and from Hudson’s Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. This territory encompassed all the Great Lakes. By 1873, defeats in wars, treaties and other circumstances reduced France’s sphere to the 87 square miles of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

These extremely wind-swept islands were settled by fishermen from Brittany, Normandy and the Basque region of France. For over a century they caught and salted the plentiful cod. But in the 1920’s, a more lucrative business flourished, bootleg liquor.

America passed prohibition, and Saint-Pierre became the epicenter for smuggling Canadian whiskey, Caribbean rum and French wines into the States. Fishermen abandoned the fish in favor of running distilleries and smuggling operations. Even Al Capone spent some time in this Prohibition hot spot.

With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the smuggling business collapsed. But the island’s most important historic moment was yet to come. On Christmas Eve, 1943, De Gaulle’s exiled Free France Government (the resistors of Vichy France) secured the island in a bloodless coup thus denying the Axis Powers a foothold in North America.

Today the islands of 6,000 French citizens are bastions of French culture. The tourist industry predominates…French restaurants, bakeries and wines are irresistible draws.

But if I need a French fix, I probably will not visit these islands. They are over 2,200 miles from my home, a bit more than halfway to Paris. And transportation costs are about equal.

Then again, life is full of surprises. If I ever find myself in Fortune, Newfoundland, I’ll definitely take the ferry ride over. I never turn down a genuine croissant in my vicinity.

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