By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine are an offshore part of the French Canadian province of Quebec.
The small archipelago, with a total land area of about 79 square miles or 206 square kilometers, includes eight major islands: Amherst, Grande Entrée, Grindstone, Grosse-Île, House Harbour, Pointe-Aux-Loups, Entry Island and Brion. All except Brion are inhabited.
The total population of Madelinot, as they call themselves, is about 13,000.
The islands today are primarily French-speaking, although they include some of Quebec’s oldest English-speaking settlements in places like Old Harry, Grosse-Ile, and Entry Island.
Most place names have a French and English version. Cap-aux-Meules or Grindstone. Île d’Entrée or Entry Island.
The first to visit and inhabit the islands were Basque fishermen in the 1600s. By 1765, the islands were inhabited by 22 French-speaking Acadians and their families, who were hunting walrus and working for a British trader. There were also Portuguese, Basque, and British.
Today, many Madelinots fly the Acadian flag and identify as both Acadian and Québécois.
The islands—though they sit in a very prominent place at the outer reaches of the Saint Lawrence—were never a hotly contested territory between the French and British, or the British and the Americans. They were just too small, and too difficult to sustain and defend.
Local lore says that some of the population are descendants of survivors of perhaps 500 to 1,000 shipwrecks on and around the islands, most of them occurring in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Church of Saint Pierre in La Vernière, built in 1876, is by some accountings the second largest wooden church in North America. (The largest is not all that far away, Saint-Marie Church in Nova Scotia.)
Saint Pierre was built mostly out of wood salvaged from shipwrecks—specially blessed before being recycled, which apparently did not prevent it from being struck numerous times by lightning.
One modern small industry is a glass-blowing workshop, La Méduse, which as its name suggests in French, specializes in glass representations of jellyfish.
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