Swimming from Canada to France in 2.5 hours

Click map for larger version.

Click map for larger version.

OK, that’s a trick headline. The fact that such a swim did happen exploits a little-known geo-political detail: France still has territory on the edge of modern-day Canada.

Here’s the swim story, by way of CBC. On August 9th, Jordan Wood swam across open ocean from Little Green Island off Newfoundland to St. Pierre-Miquelon, a distance of 7 kilometers or 4.3 miles. (The link includes a short video.)

The feat wasn’t a milestone or anything like that. Indeed, if not for being able to exploit the Canada-to-France angle, it may not have made news accounts at all. But the geography surrounding this swim does enhance the story.

A far more interesting and detailed write up comes by way of an article by Andrew Robinson in the St. John’s Newfoundland paper, the Telegram. (Wood is from Grand Banks, but now lives in San Francisco.)

A swim coach in the coastal California city, Wood has previously taken part in open-water swims from the infamous Alcatraz Island in San Francisco and as part of a relay across the English Channel.

“A couple of years ago I started looking at swims I could do in my home province,” said Wood, who hopes to help attract other open-water swimmers to the province though his own experience.

His interest in open-water swimming developed through his involvement in the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco, an athletics club that organizes open-water swims. Wood was a member of the Southern Sharks Swim Club in the Grand Bank-Fortune area growing up and has undergone multiple shoulder surgeries. The cold water helps his shoulder as he swims.

“San Francisco has a lot of open-water swimmers who do extreme swimming events around the world. I started (thinking), ‘Well, if people want to travel to England or Spain to do swims, why wouldn’t they come to Newfoundland?’”

St. Pierre quay, 1887. Photo: Wikipedia

St. Pierre quay, 1887. Photo: Wikipedia

Segue to the travel and history section of your weekend web reading.

St. Pierre-Miquelon is the last bit of real estate France retains from the glory days of New France. I bet a fair number of readers had a foggy awareness that there was still a remanent of France in the vicinity of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Consider this a refresher course, not to be confused with Quebec’s Magdalen Islands (Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine).

According to Wikipedia, St. Pierre-Miquelon was first made part of France in 1536, although it went back and forth between England and France more than once in the turbulent times between 1714 – 1816. It’s been French since then.

In administrative terms, it’s now something called an overseas collectivity. The population in 2011 was estimated to be slightly under 6,000. The motto is “A mare labor” or “From the sea, work”. It’s cold, with a short growing season and little arable land, so the economy has long centered around fishing. Apparently it was a hot spot for smuggling during prohibition, according to this from Wikipedia:

Smuggling had always been an important economic activity in the islands, but it became especially prominent in the 1920s with the institution of prohibition in the United States.In 1931, the archipelago was reported to have imported 1,815,271 U.S. gallons (1,511,529 imperial gallons; 6,871,550 litres) of whisky from Canada in 12 months, most of it to be smuggled into the United States. The end of prohibition in 1933 plunged the islands into economic depression.

Line map of the islands in relationship to Newfoundland. Via Wikipedia

Line map of the islands in relationship to Newfoundland. Via Wikipedia

If you’d like to visit, but would rather not swim, transportation is available by plane or ferry. There’s a tourist board with an attractive website. Here are some visitor comments:

A little piece of France close to Canada! Superb!
Andrew (Toronto)

Great place! Beautiful… The people are very warm and friendly.    
Your neighbors from Québec.

Beautiful weather, delicious food, stunning scenery, friendly people, we will be back!
Scott (Australia)

We just got here,  it’s raining but its a great feeling!
Jocelyne (Québec)

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Hawaii, but I love islands. We try to visit as many as possible. I hope to get to the Magdalen islands one day. St. Pierre-Miquelon seems slightly harder to manage, but I bet that would be fun too.

Have you been to either place?

Further afield, what are your favorite islands? Which ones do you dream of seeing?

Sainte Pierre from the air. Via Wikipedia.

Sainte Pierre from the air. Via Wikipedia.

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One Response to “Swimming from Canada to France in 2.5 hours”

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  1. Hank says:

    I’ve bicycled the Magdalen Islands. Very windy and few trees!