Cleveland and Rouen: A Pair of Sister Cities That Go Back 100 Years

-Written by Ezra Ellenbogen

A Picture From the 10 Year Anniversary Celebration (

Although Rouen and Cleveland technically established their official sister city relationship in 2008,[1] the strong cultural and political relationship between the cities has existed for over a century. The sister city relationship between Rouen, the French city of around 112 thousand, and Cleveland, the American city of around 388 thousand, started unusually. That is, it started with a medical unit in World War I France.[2][3]

When World War I broke out, the American Ambassador to France, Myron Herrick (a Clevelander himself), asked renowned surgeon and physician, George Washington Crile, to organize a surgical team to assist French forces.[4] Dr. Crile recruited a team of volunteer nurses and surgeons from Lakeside Hospitals in Cleveland (now University Hospitals). The “Lakeside Unit,” as it was called, worked across Northern France, especially near Rouen and Paris. Through the two years of being stationed in France (1915-1917), the Lakeside Unit grew significantly in size and treated over 83,000 patients from both sides of the war. Dr. Crile and his group heavily changed the quality of overseas medical services for the better and were able to apply results from their work to further innovations in the medical field. Dr. Crile’s revelations and new medical ideas inspired him to co-found today’s Cleveland Clinic along with three other doctors from the Unit: Frank E. Bunts, William E. Lower, and John Philips.[5]

Cultural and economic links between the cities exist as well. First, French immigration to Cleveland never grew especially rapidly, and instead, developed gradually. That is, although the number of French immigrants was often rather low in pre-Industrial Cleveland, they certainly influenced the culture and diversity of the city and its surrounding region over time.[6]

As for economic ties: a handful of Cleveland companies, including most prominently, Lubrizol, Lincoln Electric, and MTD Products, are major employers in Rouen.[7][8] In fact, business ties helped drive the decision to partner the cities. Yannick Le Couedic revived the local chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce and encouraged the city of Cleveland to build on its foundation of relations with Rouen. Le Couedic is a retired Lubrizol executive who grew up in France and lived in Northeast Ohio. In 2008, Mayor Frank G. Jackson established a sister city partnership with Rouen with hopes of economic and cultural exchange. This sister city relationship went on to become one of the most productive, as well as one of the most culturally and economically significant that Cleveland has ever had.

Since it was established, the Cleveland-Rouen sister city relationship accomplished numerous goals. In January 2008, a delegation from Rouen visited and toured Cleveland Clinic. Since then, medical facilities in both cities have kept in touch. Later, the head of MTD Products in France, Philippe Obadia, checked out a new commercial mower in Cleveland and toured MTD factories across the state. Airlines, businesses, mayors, artists, and more have all been involved in the action.

In 2018, Cleveland and Rouen’s sister city relationship reached its 10th anniversary, strong as ever. In celebration, Cleveland and Rouen had a ‘mural exchange’ project and coordinated a Bastille Day celebration on July 14th in Cleveland. Bastille Day is a French national holiday commemorating the storming of Bastille – a fortress and prison – on July 14th, 1789, an event which helped usher in the French Revolution.[9] The 6-hour Bastille Day reflected French culture with a celebration that included food, live entertainment, and more.

The mural project started with Paatrice Marchand, a Rouen artist, creating the well-known “fried eggs” mural on the side of Market Garden Brewery.[10] The mural depicts fried eggs floating about the sky like clouds, and says, “If you see a cloud behind the sun, it must be an egg.” Later that year, local Cleveland artist Lisa Quine was chosen to paint a mural in Rouen in collaboration with French graffiti enthusiast group “Idem & Mozaik.” The roughly 2,500 square feet large mural ended up as a splash of color and geometry, with a broad banner that reads “All colors are beautiful.[11]

Rouen and Cleveland have a strong sister city partnership that has promoted economic and cultural development and exchange. In fact, the two cities, in collaboration with the French-American Chamber of Commerce, are designing and launching a French cultural garden in Cleveland by Spring 2020.[12] You can find out more about this exciting project at From the arts to business, Rouen and Cleveland have helped develop each other culturally and economically. Here’s to another 100 years of good relations!

– by Ezra Ellenbogen

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