Rush to save paintings during Port Moody fire

Artists, musicians react to Moody Centre blaze that took a vacant grocery store, Gallery Bistro Sunday night

When fire ripped through Gallery Row in Moody Centre Sunday night, Gaetan and Zoe Royer sprung into action.

In the Silk Art Gallery, where Gaetan Royer runs his CityState consulting firm and Zoe Royer manages the artwork, the couple knew they had to act fast to save the tens of thousands of dollars worth of original pieces. They each took a few paintings off the walls and ran outside.

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Luckily, they happened to have a shipping container on the parking lot to the east of the Clarke Street heritage building they lease from Rainer and Helen Daniels, who also own Gallery Bistro and the cinder-block building in between.

The container was there to store personal items from a move from their recently sold recreation property, Zoe Royer said, and had the fire been a week later, it likely would have not been there.

With the help of about a dozen passersby and friends “who came out of nowhere,” Zoe Royer recalled Tuesday morning, they scrambled to protect the art by placing the pieces inside the metal box. They also quickly shifted hard drives and files from their two businesses, as well as other items, into vehicles.

Within 15 minutes or so, the doors to the shipping container were closed and the firefighters on a ladder truck were spraying water from an overhead hose and on to the flames and smoke below.


Gaetan and Zoe Royer look on Sunday night as part of Gallery Row burns. PHOTO BY MARIANNE LAROCHELLE/THE TRI-CITY NEWS


Zoe Royer, a Port Moody city councillor, said she and her husband watched in horror as the devastation along Gallery Row unfolded.

And she prayed for a miracle — anything, she said, to shield Gerry Thompson and Sandy Terry’s art that she had curated for a floral realism exhibit that opened on the summer solstice.

After all, Thompson, a Maple Ridge resident, had spent “months and months” to prepare for the show, painting nine large oil and acrylic works that were priced between $3,000 and $12,500; Terry’s six paintings represented about a year and a half of labour, the artist said.


A photo taken in Gerry Thompson’s studio before she put the finishing touches on her paintings for the Silk Art Gallery show. All were in the Moody Centre gallery at the time of the fire Sunday evening. Her pieces from left to right are: Whispers, Burst of Spring, Splendour and Georgia. COURTESY OF GERRY THOMPSON


The next day, when the container doors were pried open, Zoe Royer said she couldn’t believe her eyes.

“We were amazed,” she said. “We thought some kind of angel had wrapped this container with fire-proof material. There was no smell of smoke. There was no damage. Nothing.”

Even the price tags that Zoe Royer had specially ordered hadn’t peeled back from the heat, she said.

It will take about a week for professional art restorers and insurance adjustors to assess the impact of the blaze on the paintings, she said.

Both artists say they’re hopeful their work will remain pristine.

Thompson, who learned about the fire from a post on Gaetan Royer’s Facebook page and visited the site Sunday night, had plans to have her floral paintings in a solo show in Vancouver in September.

“I’m feeling really good and I’m encouraged they were handled property during the evacuation,” she said.

Added Terry, “The heroic effort of Zoe and Gaetan to save my pieces is remarkable.”

Had she lost them in the fire, “it would have been a heartbreak. It’s not just the time that’s lost — it’s the inability to replace [the art].”


Aria by Sandy Terry was in the Silk Art Gallery floral realism painting show. COURTESY OF SANDY TERRY


Still, much was lost down the street.

Cocoaro Craft Chocolate, which moved into its building west of the Silk Art Gallery in late June, will have to toss its food products because of contamination, owner Margaret Inoue said.

And Helen Daniels said she met Tuesday afternoon with engineers and insurance adjustors, who determined the building housing Gallery Bistro isn’t structurally sound and will have to come down.

“As for what we’ll do next, we don’t really know yet. [It’s] way too soon to think about that,” she wrote in an email late Tuesday.

The news is a blow to the Tri-City arts community as the Daniels are not only well-known arts advocates but their 30-seat venue was a boon for artists and musicians alike.

The Daniels opened their eatery in 2012 after Helen Daniels left ArtsConnect — a now-defunct arts council in the Tri-Cities — as executive director, a position she had held for years. As its reputation for providing entertainment and a venue for the arts grew, more people were drawn to Clarke Street.

Now, the Daniels are responding to hundreds of messages of condolences from around the world, Helen Daniels said. “It’s just been a lot of outpouring of support. People are shocked and asking, ‘How can we help?’”

Nan Nikolai, who books the acts for the Gallery Bistro and handles its PR, said she has spent many hours on the phone this week to cancel gigs that were booked up until the new year.

Still, Zoe Royer, who chairs PoMo’s arts and culture committee, said she believes Gallery Row will rise from the ashes. After things return to normal, she wants to host a gathering or block party to welcome visitors back. “We want to show gratitude that nobody was hurt in all of this.”


Zoe Royer talks to a fire and flood restoration crew Tuesday morning from inside the shipping container that was parked next to her Silk Art Gallery. Janis Cleugh/the tri-city news


With the loss of Gallery Bistro, many arts advocates took time this week to send messages of sorrow and support to the Daniels.

Here is some of what they told The Tri-City News:

• “This truly is a devastating blow to the heritage of Port Moody as well as the business owners and their staff. We hope we can look forward to rebuilding Gallery Row in the future.” — Cathy Cena, president, Port Moody Arts Centre Society 

• “As a musician and resident of Port Moody, I am deeply saddened by the fire at the Gallery Bistro. As co-leader of the Monday night jazz jam sessions, I know how much the bistro has meant to so many musicians and jazz enthusiasts.” — Gord Hembruff, musician

• “It’s very sad. The Gallery Bistro is one of only a few places people in the Tri-City areas can go to see live music and they have done a great job with promoting what they do and giving opportunities to musicians in the area. I hope they come back soon and stronger than ever.” — Devon Wells, musician

• “This little area of Port Moody is truly the beating heart of the art community. Because of these individuals and creative business owners coming together to provide spaces where artists can connect, share, grow and simply just be together, City of the Arts is genuine.... I have complete confidence that the arts community will come together to repay the support to these creative business owners who have contributed so much — many of whom have been engaging the Port Moody arts community long before even opening their businesses.” — Sarah Ronald, artist

• “Hopefully, the Gallery Bistro can be restored and Helen and Rainer’s passion project can continue to grow and prosper.” — Shannon Gaye and Kristian Alexandrov, musicians

• “Gallery Bistro has been an important hub of the arts community with live music, literary readings and art exhibits. It has been a welcoming place where groups could meet, with Helen and Rainer always accommodating. Creative People Talking, a community arts group of over 160 creatives, held our regular discussion/gatherings at Gallery Bistro for the past four years… Finding alternative meeting sites will be a challenge. Live music, especially jazz, folk, singer-songwriter performances, will certainly suffer without this cozy venue. The loss of the building is horrible and the artistic community is sad about it.” — Rose Kapp, artist and arts advocate 

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