Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Destination: St Pierre et Miquelon (part two)

Painting made for the 1900 Exposition Universelle of Paris

Excursion to the Ile des Marins (Fishermen’s Island)

As I related in my last post we arrived in St Pierre and took a tour of the island (see both posts of 21-August and 17-August-09.) From our hotel window we could see another island with just a few isolated houses. We were told that this was the Ile des Marins (Fishermen’s Island). Nobody lives there anymore (just a couple of people in the summer.) It has been preserved as a “museum island.” We decided to take the afternoon boat going there.

In Jacques Leclerc’s map below you can see the tiny Ile aux Marins to the right of Ile St Pierre, in the bottom of the map. Newfoundland is on the right; in French it is called Terre Neuve, which means New land.

This island used to be called Ile aux Chiens (Dogs’ Island) after the small shark called Dog Fish. The island’s name was changed in 1920. Up to 800 people lived on this island; all of them independent fishermen and their families. They were mostly French from Normandy and Brittany, Basques and Acadiens fishing with their dorys.

Below is a painting depicting the island in its heyday.

Because the island is covered with flat shoreline stones (called “Grave” in French) it was perfect for drying cod. I bought a book of poetry by Francine Girardin-Langlois which is illustrated. Here is her painting of the women drying the cod on the “graves.” It looks like backbreaking work.

Below is a vintage postcard showing more cod being laid on the flat rocks or “graves” to dry. Young men (often orphan teenagers) called “Graviers” would come from France for the season to help cure the cod. In 1904 St Pierre et Miquelon lost the privilege to fish the waters of the “French Shore” of Newfoundland. This was the beginning of the decline for the little Ile des Marins. When in 1930 the fish drying plant burned down, the resident started to leave the island. In 1963 the school closed and the last full time resident left in 1964. The local authorities decided to preserve the church and a few houses as a “village of bygone days” to show future generation how cod was preserved and also to show the hard life these fishermen led on this island. Some of the houses are second holiday homes for descendants of the original fishermen, but with no electricity or running water.

It was a perfect day, sunny, not too warm with a light breeze. We walked toward the museum and visited it.

It has a collection of objects, furniture, memorabilia and pictures from the glory years of the cod fishery.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them)

This is the one room school house with the same type of furniture we had in our primary schools in France when I was a little girl. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

On the blackboard someone had described what the teacher wrote that last day of school : “Friday 5 July 1963… The Last Class So he turned towards the blackboard took a piece of chalk and, pressing with all his strength, he wrote as big as he could: “Vive la France” then he stood there, his head leaning against the wall, without talking, with his hand he gestured “that’s the end …go away.”

We followed the path to the church. This church called Notre-Dame des Marins (Our Lady of the Fishermen) was built in 1874 from trees imported from France since there are no trees on the island. The church is built in the shape of a fishing boat and has two Italian chandeliers.

We walked to the lighthouse

and then towards what is left of a German cargo ship the “Transpacific” which sank in 1971

Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them

We proceeded to walk all around the island from the lighthouse all the way to the cannons (placed there after the Crimean war), stopping sometimes to watch the spare landscape or St Pierre across the bay. We could not but think about the devastation overfishing did to the cod fisheries. In 1492 John Cabot marveled that cod was so plentiful that it almost stopped his ship, or at least slowed its progress. The sea seemed alive with fish. This went on for centuries with cod fishing sustaining both fishermen as well as the general economy of the area.

This is an Old Cod Fishing print published by Giulio Ferrario in Milan, 1827
Fishermen from France and Portugal would come in their small inshore boats and the cod was so plentiful that it was enough for their small-scale fishing and for the millions of harp seals. The natural growth of the cod stock could replenish itself then.

Fishermen fishing cod in their inshore boats in the 1920s

But in the mid 50s and 60s the dory fishery was displaced by large factory trawlers. These huge trawlers came from distant countries attracted by quick financial gains. They had huge nets which could haul enormous quantities of fish, process them and deep-freeze them quickly working around the clock. Just think - a typical 16th century ship could catch 100 tons of fish in a season – these huge factory trawlers could catch 200 tons of cod in an hour!

The designs of the trawlers were improved and equipped with stronger radars so they could catch the cod anywhere until the catch increased to 800,000 tons in 1968. But then, the catch kept falling so in 1976 the Canadian government passed legislation to extend their jurisdiction further from the coast. The international fishing fleets had to now fish in the “high seas”. This could have helped the cod stock but now it was the Canadian government, with investors, which started a fishing fleet of bigger factory-trawlers combing (actually vacuuming) the sea until 90% of the cod were gone. In 1992 the Canadian government was forced to close the fishery. This devastated Newfoundland where 40,000 lost their work as well as did the small-boat fishermen of St Pierre et Miquelon who fished this area for generations. Greed and ignorance caused the seemingly limitless stocks of cod to dwindle to near extinction. Technological advances now allow the potential for large-scale trawlers to find and annihilate every commercial fish stock anywhere in the world. I heard that in Alaska, King Salmon stocks are not as plentiful as they once were. But with the constant search for profits plus the exploding worldwide population more fish industries will certainly collapse.

Split and salted cod drying in 1920’s picture

Fishing in the area for capelins and plankton-feeding shrimp further depletes the ecosystem of the ocean and deprives the cod of their usual nourishment - so they are starving. Everything is connected. The destruction caused by grossly over fishing cod in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland is an enormous ecological disaster.

So we left the little island and took the 10-minute boat ride back to St Pierre feeling nostalgic and a bit sad. Here is a Grand Banks folk song:

Wasn't many years ago, that the men round here would go
Out in their skiffs and haul their traps out on the bay
And shortly they would return, loaded down from stem to stern
And weigh off the fish, and store the gear away.
And now the waters are as barren as the cliffs that guard the cove,
And catch the North wind blowing off the shore.
And I wonder how an ocean turns as lifeless as a stone
And I wonder can the sea revive once more

Paintings by Jean Claireaux


Val said...

fascinating - thank you! we have similar probs off the east african coast with big long-liners vacuuming everything up...

Celeste Maia said...

Chere Vagabonde, I read with great interest the second instalment of your trip to Saint Pierre et Miquelon. As always you tell a good story and illustrate it well. It is so sad to read of the implaccable passing of time, and what greed and bad management did of the abundant fishing, the "limitless" supply of cod. It is the same story in so many other parts of the world. But at least the islands are preserved, no insensitive developments were allowed there.
What a beautiful trip, and all that because of a little stamp. Thanks you shor sharing it.

Marguerite said...

Such a fabulous tour of Ile aux Marins! I just fell in love with this little island. The picturesque village, church, and cod fish photos are my favorites. Maybe this is where my ancestors lived, since I am so attracted to it, and why I love Cod so much. Beautiful, interesting post!

Paty said...

very beautiful, great post! thank you for this history lesson. I love all the paintings and the pictures, those wood houses reminds me a lot of american movies, i wish I could meet them in person. Very nice!

DJan said...

This is a very sad story, but beautifully told. We simply cannot take everything over and over and expect it to be there tomorrow. The entire story is told where you say the catch was 100 tons a season, and these trawlers could take 200 tons AN HOUR. This is criminal. Greed has taken honest fishermen and turned them into criminals, and a way of life... gone.

claude said...

Je viens de faire un beau et intéressant voyage à St-Piette et Miquelon.
Je ne sais pas ce que j'ai fais mais en lisant ton post j'ai dans les oreilles un accompagnement musicale. J'entends cocorico et un caquement de poules en folie.

Shammickite said...

How sad... "C'est fini, allez-vous-en." I can sense the bitter disappointment in the teacher's words. So many of the small fishing communities no longer exist, not only in St Pierre et Miquelon, but in the outports of Newfoundland where the people were moved by the government to the mainland.
The cod fishery may never recover, the world has too many mouths to feed. Those factory boats just hoover up all the fish in their path, regardless of the species.
Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed post. You research your topics so thoroughly. Next time I'm in Newfoundland (2010, I hope) I'd like to take a trip to St P et M.

RennyBA's Terella said...

What an interesting, readable and educational post with great historical background - thanks for sharing and with nice pics to document!

Gina E. said...

Hello Vagabonde - I saw your reply to my comment on Shammackite's blog, regarding squirrels, and decided I should visit you and apologise for any offence caused! Thanks for explaining your point of view; I do appreciate that you were having a bit of fun with your original comment, but just the thought of killing squirrels made me shudder!
I've been having a look at your blog while I'm here of course, and even though I am completely unfamiliar with this part of the world, I've found your photos and commentary fascinating. Love those old postcards!
Gina in Australia

Darlene said...

Another spell binding post on a part of the world that most of us didn't know existed.

Thank you for your prodigious research, wonderful photography, and other interesting additions. Yours is one of the better blogs in blog-sphere. I always learn something new here.

Elaine said...

Very interesting and very sad also. You have to wonder if "Progress" is really progress and how long our world can survive man's destructive ways.

Friko said...

A most interesting post, I agree with every word you say about the greed which is devastating the fish stocks in all the oceans.
It must have been a fascinating trip for you, such an unusual place, far off the beaten track.
Have you thought of putting all your travel blogs into a book for yourself or your family? It will be of great interest to your children. As you know with age one becomes interested in what one's forbears did.

Ruth said...

This is devastating, very sad. Were there words about the overfishing to be read on the island? Or was that solely from your research?

The photos, paintings and illustrations show what a stark and beautiful place the island is. But I would visit with a heavy heart. I'm afraid humans tend to only repair, if possible, after doing damage, rather than respect and prepare in the mode of the Native American spirit. Alas, it is our story, and it sickens me. It might be too late for some of the planet. Did you see "Home" the film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand?

Thank you for the post, its beauty and truth, and all these great images you found and took.

sablonneuse said...

A fascinating post but, at the same time, it is sad to hear about the decline of an island.

Fennie said...

Wonderful post Vagabonde and with a mine of useful information. I hold to the theory that it is our destruction of the marine biosphere and particularly the destruction of carbon sequestering shellfish that is at the heart of the gradual accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Absolutely fascinating account and I loved your pictures.

Reader Wil said...

This is a well documented post and the paintings are brilliant. It's interesting to read about these remote islands, which I had never heard of before. I like those harbours: they remind me of the fishing villages in Great Britain.
Thanks for sharing and also for your visit!.

Vagabonde said...

Unfortunately my cat jumped on my keyboard and I rejected the following comment instead of publishing it:

Beautiful place and great images..Loved this post..Thanks for sharing,..Unseen Rajasthan

Vagabonde said...

Val, Celeste, Marguerite, Paty, DJan, RennyBa’s Terella, Darlene, Elaine, Sablonneuse, Reader Will
and Fennie – I am always so pleased to read your thoughtful comments . Thank you.

Gina E. – welcome to my blog. I hope you will come back.

Friko – I started this blog as a way to write my recollections for my small grand children so they could read them, some day, hopefully. I shall look into getting a hard copy of my blog somehow. I think there are places that print blogs.

Ruth – I did the research on cod fishing. Last year I bought a book in St John’s and another one on the history of St Pierre et Miquelon. In addition I tried to find as many reports I could on the overfishing problem, then tried to sum it all up on my post.

Vagabonde said...

Claude - Merci de ta visite. Ce qui m’a surtout plus à St Pierre c’est d’entendre parler le français, car ici je ne l’entend jamais.

Vagabonde said...

Shammickite – Let me know if you go to St Pierre et Miquelon next year, I’ll tell you where we stayed, it was very nice. When I read the “c’est fini” on the blackboard I got a lump in my throat. Thanks for commenting.

Bill Hess said...

Vagabonde, I see you are traveler and a chronicler. Nice account.

I also read your comment on the Immoral Minority and saw that you had visited Wasilla.

I invited you to visit my blog as well:


Miss_Yves said...

Stupendous post, amazing pictures !

Anonymous said...

recherching about cod fishind here from portugal.
Great post!!! thanks

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde .. a magnificent post about St Pierre et Miquelon and the fishing industry ...

The historical element is wonderful to read - until we get to the 'over-doing' it stage of recent decades .. where no -one thinks of the eco-system as you note.

Devastating effects this overfishing has been having .. humans don't seem to think of the future ..just the now for profits ...

Brilliant post - so informative and relevant to all coastlines ..

Fantastic photos too .. I loved looking and reading about it .. cheers Hilary

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