The Making of the ‘Paris Crew’

A legend that will never die

Saint John was a bustling, thriving city during the great debates over Confederation in the early 1860's. The skill of Saint John shipbuilders and the audacity of her merchants was a combination that sent ships laden with New Brunswick produce and manufacture to every corner of the world and in return landed exotic cargoes on her docks.

It has been written that the congestion of ships in Saint John harbour would, at times, be so great that an agile boy or man could go from the east to the west side by jumping from the deck of one ship to the other. Because of the congestion and lack of mobility of these ships once their sails were furled, movement was made possible by the use of tow boats whose motive power was supplied by husky oarsmen. It was a natural thing for these tow boat men to hold contests to establish the best crew in the harbour. The most consistent winner in these races was a crew from No. 2 West Saint John Boat Club. Early in 1867 High Sheriff Harding of Saint John received word that there was to be a World's Championship Rowing Regatta in Paris, France. He convinced the Provincial Government that the Saint John crew should be given a chance to compete. They gave a grant of $2,000. The rest of the $6,000 expected expense money was raised by public subscription.

The cream of European aristocracy lined the banks of the Seine to watch this international event. The other competing crews were from England, France, Germany and Italy. The European crews lined up for the first event, somberly dressed and quietly determined. Then out from the bank appeared the crew from Canada in a shell painted a bright green, An English reporter dubbed this craft the "Chinese Puzzle". They were wearing bright pink caps and jerseys, black leather braces and black pants. The English crews especially were shocked at the appearance and actions of these brash colonials who waved to the spectators, and kidded among themselves and the other crews.

The gun went off for the first race and away went the colonial crew using a very unorthodox stroke, quick and short, bringing the oar back to their chest. At the first buoy they were many lengths ahead of the next boat which was one of the French entries, The Saint John crew stopped rowing and urged the French crew to catch up. When they did the Saint John crew started again and finished the race far in the lead, using their bow stroke, Fulton rowing with one hand and waving his hat with the other.

It will be just a hundred years in July 1967 since the brash provincials in their peculiar boat with their unorthodox style and high spirits, soundly beat the cream of the world's rowing fraternity, and returned to Canada heroes and have gone down in history bearing the sobriquet "The Champion Paris Crew".