WHO WE ARE
Paris Crew Gallery is a one-of-a-kind experience for art lovers everywhere. Owned and operated by celebrated artist and photographer Jennifer Irving, Paris Crew is an upmarket art gallery and creative space in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Carrying world-renowned artists Rebecca Aldernet, and Will Rafuse, as well as local makers such as Shannon Gates, Melanie Koteff Backman, and Leigh Donovan, Paris Crew features both visual and musical art, and hosts a variety of events including live music and creative workshops.
WHAT'S IN THE NAME?
The original Paris Crew
Exactly one week after Confederation, the freshly forged Dominion of Canada was thrust into the international spotlight on July 8, 1867. That day, on the banks of the Seine River amidst the glittering spectacle of the Paris Exposition, stunned spectators watched as the underdog team from Saint John, New Brunswick won the International Rowing Regatta, effectively defeating the favoured crews from Germany, France, and England.
A place definitively shaped by its relationship to water, the port city of Saint John was built around maritime-reliant industries like fishing, shipping, and shipbuilding. Likewise, its people naturally took to the water for leisure activities. And so, while other countries decided to submit artwork and inventions to that year’s Paris Exposition, New Brunswick decided to play to its strengths and send a four-oared rowing team of three fishermen and a lighthouse keeper to represent them at this international event.
In a characteristic display of community, New Brunswickers were so confident in their team’s ability to succeed that they raised $4,000 in addition to the $2,000 provided by the provincial government to help the four men travel to Paris.
When they arrived, the Saint John crew caused quite a stir amongst the Europeans who were baffled by their unique style of rowing, hand-made boats, and strange uniforms that included bright pink caps. It is easy to imagine the crowd’s whispered laughter at the expense of these four men from a small city across the ocean who most likely looked rough and inexperienced compared to their glossy competitors.
No one was laughing, however, when the team from New Brunswick won both of their races. According to Robert Fulton, one of the crew’s four oarsmen, they outperformed the other teams so easily that he even had the time to doff his pink cap at their audience as they rowed by.
Nicknamed the Paris Crew after the site of their remarkable victory, news of the team’s triumph traveled fast and reached Canada before they did, electrifying the country with its first taste of international acclaim so soon after Confederation. So, when the four oarsmen returned to New Brunswick on August 6, the Paris Crew received a hero’s welcome in their hometown of Saint John, greeted by adoring crowds, artillery salutes, and a parade in their honour.
The Paris Crew continued to compete together for another decade until the team disbanded in 1876. Until that time, they continued to be welcomed home to Saint John with the same amount of pride after every single race – regardless of whether they won or lost.
The new Paris Crew
Located on 62 Water Street, Paris Crew faces the ever-vibrant Port of Saint John whose steely blue waters still play host to countless vessels every year between ferries, cargo, and cruise ships.
Built in the period between 1877 and 1881, the building Paris Crew calls home was part of the restoration movement that swept through Saint John after the Great Fire of 1877 destroyed nearly half the city. This desire to rebuild from the ashes, better and stronger than before, stands as a testament to the grit and resiliency of the citizens of Saint John.
This building housed E. Leonard & Sons, a steam boiler company from Ontario, for over 60 years before going out of business in the mid-1950s. Then, everything went quiet until 2018 when Jennifer Irving (Owner, Paris Crew) and her husband saw the glimmer of potential in 62 Water Street underneath decades of dust and decay.
“It was in rough condition and needed a lot of work,” Irving says, “but the bones of the building were strong and we felt that Water Street was a beautiful place to have a gallery.”
Together, with the clear-eyed vision of architect Sanaz Shirshekar (Owner, Studio Shirshekar), Irving revived and revitalized the space by keeping pieces of the past while doing away with unsalvageable elements to make room for the new.
“We completely gutted the building from ceiling to walls to floors and rebuilt, but also maintained some of the original components such as the large wood beam ceilings and brick walls,” Irving shares.
It is this thoughtful balance between old and new, preservation and innovation, that captures the beauty of Paris Crew. Like the rowing team from which it derived its name, Paris Crew may have flourished in an unlikely place, but it aspires to become something great for its community and bring the people of the Port City together.
With a name and a space that holds a special place in Saint John’s history, Paris Crew honours the past while looking toward the future.