The NYC art gallery brought to you by the Canadian government

A diplomat saw a problem he wanted to fix and Ottawa provided the money for him to try.
The Canadian government hoped the gallery could give greater exposure to Canadian artists. 2:25

A diplomat saw a problem he wanted to fix and Ottawa provided the money for him to try.

"I was a bit frustrated by the fact that Canadian visual artists were bypassed so often," said Guy Plamondon, when explaining to The National why he asked Ottawa for money to start a gallery in New York.

Guy Plamondon came up with the idea of opening a gallery in New York to promote contemporary Canadian art. (The National/CBC Archives)

49th Parallel was the name given to the gallery, which was opened in March 1981 at 420 West Broadway in New York City. The same property was home to other existing galleries.

As Plamondon, Canada's cultural attaché in New York, told The National, the gallery offered mostly contemporary Canadian art, as that is what was available to show.

"After all, our country is not as old as the British, the French, the German or the Italians," said Plamondon.

It was an experimental project designed to give Canadian artists exposure in the American market. 

"420 West Broadway receives up to 6,000 visitors every Saturday and a steady stream of people through the week," reporter John Grier told viewers on The National on April 11, 1981, less than a month after the Canadian gallery opened.

The first show at 49th Parallel featured some of the work of Canadian artist Michael Snow.

A decade-long run

According to Grier, the rent for the gallery space was expected to cost Ottawa $70,000 a year — but the Canadian government thought it was worth the investment.

The 49th Parallel art gallery was created with the hope of giving Canadian artists greater exposure in New York. (The National/CBC Archives)

"New York is probably the most important centre for contemporary art in the world, but Canada is the first country to open up a gallery specifically to promote its own contemporary artists," Grier said when wrapping up his report on The National.

"If it's successful, other countries seem sure to follow."

The gallery remained open for the next 11 years, closing in June of 1992, according to a report in The Globe and Mail later that year.

Ann Garneau, the local Canadian consul for cultural affairs, told the paper that the decision to close the gallery was "based almost exclusively on finances."