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Here’s a new one for you: The Appalachian Mountains run through France!
Forgive me for being so presumptuous, but I’d be willing to bet all five strings on my banjo that you had never heard this before!
Far from being limited to the hilltops of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the Appalachians form a 100 – 300 mile wide zone that runs from Central Alabama all the way north to Canada’s coastline, extending to the Canadian island of Newfoundland – more than 1,500 miles northeast of the mountain’s original starting point.
Near their northeastern-most point, the Appalachian Mountain Range passes through two tiny islands known as Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, both of which are sovereign French territories.
With a combined population of 6,080, the French islands are one of the nation’s few remaining territories in the New World.
First explored by the Portuguese in 15020, France made the 93-square mile islands their territory in 1536.
Though early European powers were quick to claim the territory, the islands were not truly settled until late in the 1600s, unfortunately for early settlers of the islands, British warships harassed the islanders throughout the early 1700s until all of the islanders were either killed or driven from the territory. Once this occurred, the English Crown claimed sovereignty over the vacated Appalachian territory.
For the following half-century, the islands off the coast of Canada were administered by the English, until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which ended the French and Indian War. As part of their surrender agreement, France ceded all its North American possessions. In exchange, England agreed to returned to France their treasured Appalachian islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.
Like most political agreements, however, the treaty wasn’t honored and over the next three generations the islands were subject to an international game of tug-of-war between the ruling powers in London and Paris – more than 2,500 miles away.
France would ultimately secure its grip upon the valuable fishing islands in 1816 and never let go — even while fighting civil wars, world wars and cold wars. Sadly, roughly 25% of the soldiers sent off to fight in defense of the Paris government never returned, having been killed in action.
A generation later, during the Second World War, Charles de Gaulle, the leader of France’s exiled government, used the island as his headquarters. This was done despite opposition from Canada, Britain and the United States, all of whom feared that exploiting the islands as sovereign French territory would encourage additional German attacks in North America.
Following the war, the island’s population swelled from 4,200 to more than 6,000 residents.
Today, the island’s economy is dominated mainly from industrial fishing fleets operating off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland and the support services.
The terrain and cold weather significantly hamper any type of agricultural operations.
With its fishing economy in steep decline, like so many other portions of Appalachia, the French Islands are betting on tourism to be its salvation. Explorations are underway to exploit deposits of oil and gas buried beneath island and off its coasts while its tourism industry is counting on its close proximity to Canada to be enough for the French territory to successfully market itself to vacationers. So who’s up for going whale watching… in France… in the Appalachian Mountians?
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