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Why is/was the world's expo 1967 so important to Montreal, Canada?

Why is/was the world's expo 1967 so important to Montreal, Canada?

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Although I have read Wikipedia's article on Expo Montreal 1967, I haven't been able to figure out why Expo 1967 still continues to strike an emotional chord in Canadians some 45 years after the event. Can anybody explain why ?

Being from Montreal but born in the seventies, I have not visited Expo 67, but I've heard a lot about it. Yes, my parents and their peers have always talked about this event with great pleasure and it does strike an emotional chord in them.

I would say there are three main reasons for this.

  1. The first one being the fact that it was a huge success, very much acclaimed. Maybe the sixties mindset helped in that matter but every critic had a good word for it.
  2. The second one lies in the fact that Montreal and Canada as well was little known to the world, constantly in the shadow of the USA in North America. The success of Expo 67 changed that.
  3. The third reason is somewhat related to the second one. The political climate in Quebec in the sixties happened to be turbulent with the rise of Quebec's nationalism and the Quiet Revolution going on, French Canadians felt the were claiming their existence not only to English Canada, but to the world.

All this put together and you are starting to have a good explanation as why Expo 67 is still seen as a major event in the lives of the people who lived it.

This page has a really good analysis of the impact of Expo 67 :

Wikipedia's page about the Quiet Revolution :

Montreal History Facts and Timeline

The history of Montreal is perhaps not as impressive as one would think, with the city being one of Canada's main centers, and a unique one at that.

Hailing from an Indian settlement and involved in the fur trade, this one-time base for French exploration has been heavily influenced not only by France, but by Britain and the US, and has staged both the World's Fair and the Olympic Games.

French Settlement, British Aggression

As with much of the rest of Canada, the Native Indians - the Huron, the Algonquin and the Iroquois tribes, settled the island way before Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, made an appearance in the 16th century. He happened upon the village of Hochelega, as did another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, seven decades later. La Place Royale was laid out in 1611 and later a Catholic church was built.

In the early years, Montreal became a noted fur-producing center and the town was renamed Ville Marie, which remains the name of one of modern-day Montreal's central boroughs. The Iroquois became upset and fought to retain land and traditions, although a peace treaty was signed in 1701. The British arrived on the scene and took control of proceedings in 1760, allowing the French to live under the Empire. The most historic buildings from this time are in Old Montreal, many of which now house museums.

City Status

Montreal officially became a city in 1832, after which time it grew rapidly. The Lachine Canal opened, allowing trade ships to avoid the treacherous Lachine Rapids. The city was elevated in status even further when it became the capital of United Province (1844 to 1849), an event which saw the arrival of masses of English-speaking immigrants. This emigration diluted the majority French-speaking community and helped Montreal to become the largest city of British North America.

Many Americans arrived in the city post-WWI, at least temporarily, to evade the prohibition of alcohol at home. This injected some much-needed funds into the city, which suffered from heavy unemployment during the Great Depression. As a result, parts of Montreal became somewhat seedy, although one of its most striking buildings, the Rialto Theater on Avenue du Parc, was erected at this time. The theater went unused for many years, but has now been revitalized as a center for the performing arts, and today hosts regular plays, concerts, movies and tours.

Expo, Olympics and Revival

WWII came and went without much fuss for Montreal, while the 1950s saw the population reach a milestone of a million residents, the expansion of the harbor and the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The 1960s experienced further development, with the building of a metro system and many urban parks for the 1967 World's Fair, which attracted millions. The site of the fair now hosts the Biosphere. Complete with a funky stadium, the Olympic Games came to Montreal in 1976, really putting the city on the world stage.

Since the downturn of the 1980s and the 1990s, Montreal history has enjoyed a revival, both culturally as well as economically. New skyscrapers and hospitals have gone up, along with the extension of metro lines and the updating of the airport. Many merged communities have been de-merged, much to the delight of affected locals.

How World's Fairs Have Shaped The History Of Architecture

World Expos have long been important in advancing architectural innovation and discourse. Many of our most beloved monuments were designed and constructed specifically for world’s fairs, only to remain as iconic fixtures in the cities that host them. But what is it about Expos that seem to create such lasting architectural landmarks, and is this still the case today?

Throughout history, each new Expo offered architects an opportunity to present radical ideas and use these events as a creative laboratory for testing bold innovations in design and building technology. World’s fairs inevitably encourage competition, with every country striving to put their best foot forward at almost any cost. This carte blanche of sorts allows architects to eschew many of the programmatic constraints of everyday commissions and concentrate on expressing ideas in their purest form. Many masterworks such as Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion (better known as the Barcelona Pavilion) for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition are so wholeheartedly devoted to their conceptual approach that they could only be possible in the context of an Exposition pavilion.

To celebrate the recent opening of the Expo Milano 2015, we’ve rounded up a few of history’s most noteworthy World Expositions to take a closer look at their impact on architectural development.

The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Crystal Palace. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Originally intended to display innovations in technology and manufacturing from around the world, the Great Exhibition took place in London in 1851 and is generally considered to be the first world’s fair. The exhibits here showcased over 100,000 objects including the latest printing presses, carriages, and rare gems, but perhaps the most astonishing feature of the fair was its famed Crystal Palace.

Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and constructed primarily of glass and iron, the Crystal Palace demonstrated incredible engineering feats and was noted for the largest amount of glass ever seen in building of the time. With its open interiors and natural lighting, the Crystal Palace served as an optimal space for exhibits by taking advantage of a self-supporting shell resting on slim iron columns and reducing the exhibition’s operating costs by eschewing any need for artificial lighting. The building was later relocated after the conclusion of the exhibition but was destroyed by fire in 1936. Despite its unfortunate demise, the Crystal Palace would serve as an inspiration for developing glass manufacturing techniques in buildings and became a precedent for subsequent curtain-wall structures.

The Universal Exposition of 1889

Galerie des Machines . Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Universal Exposition of 1889 (Exposition Universelle de 1889) was a celebration of international achievements in architecture, fine arts, and the latest technology, with the newly built Eiffel Tower as its central attraction. The 1889 exhibition was part of a tradition of universal exhibitions taking place every eleven years in Paris, with the 1889 event occurring on the centennial of the French Revolution. The commissioners decided to reject early plans for a 300-meter-tall guillotine in favor of an iron tower design by Gustave Eiffel.

The tower served as the entrance arch, and the icon for the fair which attracted nearly 2 million visitors. At the time, the tower was the tallest structure in the world and the public flocked to its upper floors to experience views over the French capital. Although initially despised by many Parisians for its looming presence over the city and meant to last only for the duration of the exhibition, the tower still stands as one of the most iconic works of architecture in the world.

A less well-known yet equally significant structure built for the exhibition was the Galerie des Machines designed by architect Ferdinand Dutert and engineer Victor Contamin. The Machinery Hall spanned 111 meters and was the longest interior space in the world at the time making use of a system of hinged arches constructed of iron. With no internal supports, this massive iron and glass structure likely drew upon the Crystal Palace as a precedent and was reused for the 1900 exhibition before it was demolished in 1910 to open up the view along the Champ de Mars.

Barcelona International Exhibition of 1929

Barcelona International Exhibition. Image © Canaan, via Wikimedia Commons

The second World Fair to be held in Barcelona after 1888, The Barcelona Exhibition of 1929 resulted in a series of prominent and lasting structures of varying architectural styles. Many of these buildings surround the Plaça d’Espanya at the foot of Montjuïc and are situated along an axial street. This grandiose sequence of space culminates in the Palau Nacional, now the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and is striking for the fact that these ornate, historically inspired structures were built during the same time period and for the same event as Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. This juxtaposition between history and modernity was one of the most unique elements of the exposition and is a notable departure from the common science fiction theme seen in so many other world’s fairs.

The original Barcelona Pavilion was dismantled in 1930 shortly after the conclusion of the exposition, but it was rebuilt in 1983 by a group of Catalan architects in the same location using only the few photographs and salvaged drawings which remained.

1964 New York World’s Fair

1964 New York World’s Fair . Image via People for the Pavilion website

With everything from rockets, to futuristic cars and cities, to an animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the 1964 New York World’s Fair truly embraced the novelty of science fiction. With a theme of “Peace Through Understanding,” the exposition took place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens on the same site as the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Here 650 acres of pavilions, displays, and public facilities dotted the landscape of the park to showcase the latest ideas and accomplishments of corporations and countries to over 50 million visitors.

Even the architecture at the exposition seemed to draw inspiration from the space-age and included Phillip Johnson’s famous New York State Pavilion. Rising 100 feet, the “bicycle wheel roof” of the main pavilion is supported by sixteen slip-formed hollow concrete columns. Compression and tension rings of steel cables gave the roof its convex shape and supported colorful plastic Kalwall sheeting. Both of these techniques represented radical architectural innovations at the time and appear to be very different from many of Johnson’s other works. Adjacent to the pavilion three disk-shaped observation towers reach a height of 226 feet and provide visitors with a new vantage point on the expo site.

Johnson’s pavilion can still be seen at the Expo site today, although its fate in the coming years is uncertain. Abandoned for many years, the pavilion is in dire need of restoration and a small group of volunteers has dedicated time each year since 2009 to repainting its red, white, and yellow walls, but further action is required to preserve this unique architectural landmark.

Century 21 Exposition of 1962

Century 21 Exposition of 1962 . Image © Seattle Municipal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

Occasionally, expositions have far-reaching impacts on not only the built environment, but also the economic and cultural life of their host cities. Similar to many other world’s fairs, the 1962 exposition focused on themes of space, science and technology and the future, and its theme was heavily influenced by the ongoing Space Race at the time. The 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle is one of the relatively few expositions in history to make a profit, and some even credit it with revitalizing the city’s economy and encouraging its cultural development in this way. Most notably, the fair resulted in the construction of the Space Needle and the Alweg Monorail, which is still running today. Public infrastructural moves such as this were made possible in the context of showcasing the latest technology for the exhibition, but also resulted in a dramatic infrastructural improvement for the life of the city.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dome. Image © Flickr user abdallahh

Expo 67 in Montreal was the main feature of Canada’s Centennial celebrations of 1967. Entitled “Man and His World,” the theme for the expo showcased man’s cultural and technological advancements and encouraged participation from countries around the world. The choice of the site for the exhibition proved to be a challenge, and a new island was created in the center of the St. Lawrence River to provide additional space. Aiming to demonstrate innovative applications of architecture and engineering, the exposition featured several major pavilions contributed by various countries.

A few of the most significant pavilions included Arthur Erickson’s pyramidal Man in His Community of hexagonal wooden frames, Frei Otto and Rolf Gutbrod’s tensile canopy structure for the German pavilion, and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the US pavilion.

Habitat 67. Image © Wladyslaw via Wikimedia Commons

Later known as the Montreal Biosphere, Fuller’s dome had far-reaching influence as a prototype for a new trend in construction. The structure is made up of steel and acrylic cells and includes a complex shading system to control internal temperatures. Visitor’s circulated through four themed platforms divided into seven levels and accessed by the longest escalator ever built at the time. Additionally, the pavilion’s futuristic look was exaggerated by the Minirail monorail that ran through the pavilion. Unfortunately, the building fell victim to a devastating fire in May 1976 in which all of the building’s transparent acrylic sections were destroyed. In 1990 the property was purchased and transformed into an environment museum which continues to occupy the building to this day.

Another famous architectural remnant from Expo 67 is Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67. The building was initially intended to provide high-quality housing in dense urban environments using prefabricated modular units. Its configuration attempted to combine elements of suburban homes with the density of an urban high-rise. Although the design did not succeed in prompting a trend in radical prefabricated buildings, a new typology was created that expanded our ideas for what is possible in prefabricated construction. Like several other structures we have seen in world’s fairs, Habitat 67 was not disassembled upon the Fair’s completion and continues to serve as a housing complex today.

Osaka World Expo 1970

Kiyonari Kikutake’s Landmark Tower

With a theme of “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” the Osaka World Expo in 1970 was the first World’s Fair to be held in Japan and represented a desire to embrace modern technology and create the potential for higher standards of living. This expo came at a particular progressive time in Japan’s history after having experienced an extremely rapid period of development in the 1960s and furthering the development of metabolism. It is also one of the best attended expositions in history with over 64 million visitors.

Expo 2010 Shanghai China

Toshiba-IHI Pavilion by Kisho Kurokawa. Image © Flickr CC user m-louis

Expo 2010 in Shanghai took place on the banks of the Huangpu River and broke numerous records in the history of world’s fairs. With the theme of “Better City – Better Life,” the expo sought to showcase China’s incredible advancements in recent decades as a global power and elevate Shanghai’s status as the “next great world city.” Known to be the most expensive expo in the history of world’s fairs, it hosted the largest number of participants and was also the largest fair site ever at an astonishing 5.28 square km. Not surprising given its scope and scale, it also drew a record 73 million visitors and surpassed the attendance record for a single day at 1.03 million visitors. Surpassing the cost of cleaning up Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, preparation for the Shanghai expo included clearing large tracts of land and moving existing buildings and factories on the site, building six new subway lines, as well as planning for extensive security preparation.

Among the Expo’s most notable projects were BIG’s Danish Pavilion and Thomas Heatherwick’s UK Pavilion. Similar to the goals for this year’s Expo Milano, many pavilions at the Exposition advocated for a focus on environmental sustainability, efficiency and diversity. Today, the grounds of the former Expo site have been transformed into a park and the former China Pavilion remains.

Expo Milano 2015

Clearly World Expositions have had remarkable impacts on the world of architecture and building technology, and many hope that Expo Milano 2015 will continue this tradition with its theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Although traditional building materials and technology in architecture have come a long way since the first World’s Fair, there is still plenty of room for innovation in regards to responding to the urgent environmental needs of today. This year’s expo recognizes this fact and offers architects opportunities to continue to explore notions of sustainability and how we engage with our planet.

Expo 67 in Montreal, a Landmark Event

Between April 27 and October 29, 1967, over 50 million visitors passed through the gates of Expo 67 to attend what would prove to be one of the largest world's fairs in history. Even today, evidence that Expo 67 was a major event can be found both in the cityscape of Montreal and in the collective memory of contemporary Quebec. This crowning event in Canada's centennial celebrations brought together 62 participating nations, international organizations, large Canadian companies and other groups, under the theme "Man and His World". It opened Quebec to the world. It also led to the development of expertise that is now one of the distinguishing features of Montreal and of the Province of Quebec, which have come to be recognized for their ability to organize festivals and avant-garde museum exhibitions. A cultural circuit and various commemorative events have helped keep the memory of this extraordinary event alive.

Montréal, 1967

A journalist of the day, writing for the Figaro newspaper, described Expo 67 as the "hugest fair of all time NOTE 1 ". The contagious enthusiasm that affects many people who experience a world's fair of any kind inevitably causes them to use superlatives in describing the event. However, in the case of Expo 67, the above comment does not appear to have been an exaggeration. As Montreal, Quebec, and Canada played host to the world over the six months of festivities associated with this major event, their image was transformed. In terms of numbers, 50,306,648 paid entries were recorded, the majority of them (45%) from the United States such attendance figures had not been seen at a world's fair since the Paris World's Fair in 1900.

The 253-hectare site, created by extending Île Sainte-Hélène and building Île Notre-Dame, was divided into four sectors: 1) the entrance at the Cité du Havre, linked to the islands by the Concordia Bridge, where the administrative buildings and Habitat 67 were located 2) the southwest end of Île Sainte-Hélène 3) the amusement park, La Ronde, on the north end of Île Sainte-Hélène and 4) Île Notre-Dame, on which most of the national pavilions were found. Sixty-two countries participated in the event, including a few African countries that had recently gained their independence. There were also provincial and thematic pavilions (Telephone, Kaleidoscope, Air Canada, Canadian National, Man and Life Pavilion, etc.).

In qualitative terms, the socio-cultural and the political effects of Expo were considerable. Coinciding with the Quiet Revolution, then in full force, this extraordinary event marked the modernization of the country and the emergence of new democratic values, as well as the growth of a renewed sense of national pride. Like all world's fairs, Expo 67 attracted international attention, both from the crowds of tourists who energized the city and from visiting dignitaries. Arts, culture, music, gastronomy and everyday life were all affected in one way or another by the event that changed the way that a large number of people viewed, listened to and experienced the world. The fair also left lasting marks on the cityscape of Montreal, testaments to the project's magnitude and its central role in the modernization of the city.

Man and His World

The idea of holding a world's fair in Montreal for the centennial of Canadian confederation emerged in the 1950s. The first public proposal, initiated by Senator Mark Drouin and the Mayor of Montreal of the day, Sarto Fournier, was made in 1958, during the Brussels World's Fair. A bid was submitted to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) (International Exhibitions Bureau) in March 1960, but it was rejected in May 1960 in favour of a proposal from Moscow. When the Soviet delegation withdrew in April 1962, this opened the way once again for Montreal, whose proposal was presented this time by its new mayor, Jean Drapeau. The BIE sanctioned the Montreal bid in May 1962.

The Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame site was developed over a period of less than 5 years, at a cost of more than 400 million dollars, using earth and rock taken from bottom of the St. Lawrence River and landfill brought from excavations for the construction of the Montreal metro. No fewer than 847 buildings were erected on the site and 12,000 trees were planted. The Expo Express, a 5.75 kilometre railway line, was built to transport people quickly from one area to another, as well as the Minirail, an elevated monorail system on which they could visit a portion of the site.

The theme of the exhibition, "Man and His World", was chosen at a 1963 meeting of Canadian intellectuals (writers, artists, politicians, professors), including author Gabrielle Roy, at Montebello. In an era of international tension, with the Cold War and the Vietnam War still raging, there was a desire to reaffirm the ideal of human solidarity. In the words of the General Commissioner of Expo 67, Pierre Dupuy: "The world is on the road to unity." [Translation] This optimism matched the sense of hope being generated at the time by the major peace and social justice movements of the 1960s. The 1967 fair's expression of renewed faith in the universal progress of Man carried on the tradition of earlier fairs, which had, since the mid-19 th century, predicted a promising future for humanity based on technological advances. However, each fair articulates a particular vision of the future in keeping with its time. For this reason, although technology would occupy an important place in many national pavilions, there was never any thought that the Montreal fair would be organized as a friendly competition among nations presenting new industrial products, as had been the case in the second half of the 19 th century. Rather, in 1967, the way of the future was the way of peace, understanding, and human solidarity, symbolized in the Expo logo designed by Montreal artist Julien Hébert. The logo image represents the friendship of men around the planet NOTE 2 , a planet that had only recently been photographed for the first time, in all its splendour, from outer space. The overall theme of the fair was divided into five sub-themes: "Man the Explorer", focusing on scientific research "Man the Producer", presenting the latest inventions "Man in the Community", illustrating the pressures created by increasing urbanization "Man the Provider", demonstrating the food supply challenges caused by overpopulation and finally, "Man the Creator", paying homage to artistic creation.

Impact of an Event

It is impossible to measure or to quantify in exact terms the impact of an event such as this. Expo 67 left a lasting impression on the consciousness of all those who experienced it it transformed the built environment of Montreal it provided a name for the City of Montreal's major league baseball team, formed the following year. It played host to heads of state from around the world, including General de Gaulle, who used the occasion to make one of the most well-known declarations in the history of contemporary Quebec: "Vive le Québec libre!" The enduring marks of Expo 67, both tangible and intangible, including several events in 2007 commemorating its 40 th anniversary, are evidence of its historical significance.

The most visible traces of the fair are in its urbanistic and architectural legacy. Every world's fair provides an opportunity for urban renewal, beginning with the transportation network. It is difficult to separate cause from effect when it comes to the holding of a world's fair and the modernization of the host city because, while hosting a world's fair means that new urbanistic projects can be developed, the event really presents an opportunity to complete ambitious projects that have already been initiated. The first such project in Montreal was the redevelopment of the expressway network (notably, the Décarie Expressway and the Louis-Hyppolyte-Lafontaine Tunnel) and the rail network, along with the construction of several major buildings such as Place Bonaventure, the Alexis Nihon Plaza and the Château Champlain. Plans for a housing development in the south end of the city were modified NOTE 3 and people returned to the areas of the city along the river Expo 67 served as the catalyst in both instances. Pierre Dupuy highlighted this several years later: "What impresses me most is that Montrealers, who had been separated from the river for so long by the port facilities, returned to the St. Lawrence, and, at the same time, they became reacquainted with their city as it experienced a tremendous surge of well-ordered power [Translation] NOTE 4 ."

In architectural terms, world's fairs have left a number of important, world-renowned, monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Grand and the Petit Palais, Trocadero Palace and the Brussels Atomium. In Montreal, while some architectural structures remain on the island site of Expo 67, on the periphery of the city's traditional tourist circuits, three monuments located in the city proper, Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome (today the Biosphere), Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, classed as an historic monument in 2009, and the Casino de Montréal complex, made up of the former French and Quebec pavilions, now occupy a central place in Montreal's contemporary architectural history.

The fair also left a less visible legacy, which was commercial and organizational in nature. The event ended with a 221 million dollar deficit however, this figure did not take into account the intense economic activity that Expo generated in various sectors of the tourist industry in Montreal, or the key role it played in the development of commercial, logistical, administrative and cultural expertise in Quebec. Each world's fair builds on the organizational experience of those that have preceded it one of the principal roles of the BIE is to ensure this transfer of administrative expertise from one fair to the next. On the local level, Expo 67 helped expand the culture of festival and major event organization in the City of Montreal and it contributed to placing Quebec and Canada at the forefront in the world in the field of museology. The founder of the Musée de la civilisation de Québec, Roland Arpin, cited Expo 67 as one of his great sources of inspiration for exhibitions and the use of multimedia.

In more general terms, Expo 67 left its mark province-wide on the collective memory of the people of Quebec, by providing a spectacular symbol of the modernization of Quebec and by representing a certain collective energy that characterized the period known as the Quiet Revolution. Even now, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay points to the event's central role in enabling Montreal to look outward to the world: "The 1967 world's fair gave Montreal a tremendous boost and the city was able to use this impetus to become part of the modern world and to have a greater presence on the international scene [Translation] NOTE 5 ."

The Future of a World's Fair Site

Once the euphoria of the celebrations has abated, the future of a world's fair site often becomes a thorny issue for the authorities, whose desire to conserve it and make it profitable often proves unrealistic. The cost of maintaining temporary pavilions erected on-site much like circus tents and not built to last, is generally too high for public administrations to assume. This explains why pavilions are usually demolished or sold and moved off-site. Three weeks before the end of the fair in Montreal, on October 9, 1967, Mayor Jean Drapeau announced that he wanted a permanent exhibition, "Man and His World", to continue at the site. Despite the support of the federal government and numerous participating countries, this initiative was not as successful as hoped and the exhibition closed its doors for good in 1981. However, other international events have helped keep Montreal's Parc des Îles (renamed Parc Jean-Drapeau in 2000) alive. For example, the Olympic Basin was excavated on Île Notre-Dame for the rowing and kayaking competitions at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In 1978, a racetrack was built for the Formula One Canada Grand Prix. An international flower show, Les Floralies internationales de Montréal, was held in the central area of the island in 1980.

Today, in addition to the amusement park, La Ronde, which continues to operate successfully, seven national pavilions remain standing in Parc Jean-Drapeau and are part of a free cultural tour. Five of them are on Île Notre-Dame: the Canadian Pavilion, which now houses the offices of the Société du parc Jean-Drapeau the French Pavilion, which was first converted to the Palais de la Civilisation, an exhibition centre, in 1985, and later, in 1993, combined with the Quebec Pavilion to become the Casino de Montréal the Jamaican Pavilion that is available for event rentals and the Tunisian Pavilion. Two are located on Île Sainte-Hélène: Buckminster Fuller's United States Pavilion, which became an environmental museum, the Biosphere, in 1995, and the Korean Pavilion, now only a wooden shell. The cultural tour presents numerous artworks created for Expo 67, including Alexander Calder's imposing sculpture, "Man", Jean leFébure's "Signe solaire" and the Kwakiutl Totem, created for the First Nations Pavilion by aboriginal artists, Tony and Henry Hunt. The site of the official ceremonies for Expo 67, Place des Nations, still exists on the southern tip of Île Sainte-Hélène. Although it is not in use, interpretive panels at the site explain its role.

The Return of World's Fairs in the 21 st Century

World's fairs are destined to be ephemeral, their physical traces fading into people's memories and souvenir collections. However, in keeping with the times, world's fairs, with their high material costs, have become virtual events and have found lasting new life on the worldwide web. Expo 2010 Shanghai launched the first virtual world's fair NOTE 6 along with a permanent museum of world's fairs. A huge project for the 3D reconstitution of the 1900 Paris World's Fair has been underway in France for a number of years NOTE 7 . Many web sites have been created by world's fair buffs who want to share memories and digital photos. Similarly, numerous virtual exhibitions were launched to commemorate Expo 67 on its 40 th anniversary in 2007. Library and Archives Canada, in particular, mounted the on-line exhibition "Expo 67…a virtual experience" NOTE 8 . The City of Montréal also added a section to its web site, entitled « Les 40 ans de l’Expo 67 » and Radio-Canada worked with Imavision to produce a DVD documentary on the event, as well as adding a virtual exhibition to its archives site NOTE 9 .

There was a full schedule of events in Montreal to commemorate the 40 th anniversary of Expo 67. Two exhibitions were held, as well: a photo exhibition on the environmental impact of constructing the islands, at the Biosphere and "Expo 67, Passport to the World", mounted by the Centre d'histoire de Montréal and held in the Parc aquatique built for Expo 67, to recreate the atmosphere and the spirit of "Man and His World." NOTE 10

Will more World's Fairs be held in the modern age? There is not doubt that they will. In an era of new environmental challenges to be met, major world's fairs have been held in Japan (Aichi, 2005) and in China (Shanghai 2010), and another will be held in Italy (Milan 2015) to explore new worlds of the future.

Van Troi Tran
Post-doctoral Researcher
Harvard University


NOTE 1: Quoted in Samy Mesli, "L’Expo 67 dans la presse française : la vision du Québec dans l’Hexagone ", Bulletin d’Histoire Politique, Vol. 17, no. 1 (2007), p. 67.
NOTE 2: Interview with Julien Hébert on Radio-Canada : http://youtube/srGgWVJmHwI
NOTE 3: France Vanlaethem, "Architecture et urbanisme : la contribution d’Expo 67 à la modernisation de Montréal ", Bulletin d’Histoire Politique, Vol. 17, no. 1 (2007), p. 121-133.
NOTE 4: Pierre Dupuy, Expo 67 ou la découverte de la fierté, Ottawa, Éditions La Presse, 1972.
NOTE 5:,5950097&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
NOTE 10: A list of the activities organized to commemorate Expo can be found on the City of Montreal web site: l :,5681572&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL


Currien, Pauline, « Une catharsis identitaire : l’avènement d’une nouvelle vision du Québec à Expo », Anthropologie et Sociétés, Vol. 30, no. 2 (2006), p. 129-151.
Dupuy, Pierre, Expo 67 ou la découverte de la fierté, Ottawa, Éditions La Presse, 1972.
Jasmin, Yves, La petite histoire d’Expo 67, Montréal, Québec/Amérique, 1997.
Mesli, Samy, « L’Expo 67 dans la presse française : la vision du Québec dans l’Hexagone », Bulletin d’Histoire Politique, Vol. 17, no. 1 (2007), p. 67.
Vanlaethem, France, « Architecture et urbanisme : la contribution d’Expo 67 à la modernisation de Montréal », Bulletin d’Histoire Politique, Vol. 17, no. 1 (2007), p. 121-133.

Cost of Living 1967

1967 the continued presence of American troops increased further and a total of 475,000 were serving in Vietnam and the peace rallies were multiplying as the number of protesters against the war increased. The Boxer Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army. In the middle east Israel also went to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the six day war and when it was over Israel controlled and occupied a lot more territory than before the war. Once again in the summer cities throughout America exploded in rioting and looting the worst being in Detroit on July 23 where 7000 national Guard were bought in to restore law and order on the streets. In England a new type of model became a fashion sensation by the name of Twiggy and mini skirts continued to get shorter and even more popular with a short lived fashion being paper clothing. Also during this year new Discotheques and singles bars appeared across cities around the world and the Beatles continued to reign supreme with the release of "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band" album, and this year was also coined the summer of love when young teenagers got friendly and smoked pot and grooved to the music of "The Grateful Dead. Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds". The movie industry moved with the times and produced movies that would appeal to this younger audience including "The Graduate" Bonnie and Clyde" and "Cool Hand Luke" . TV shows included "The Fugitive" and "The Monkees" and color television sets become popular as the price comes down and more programmes are made in color.

7 Palace of Fine Arts, Chicago

The Palace of Fine Arts has been a staple pavilion at World’s Fairs all over the U.S., and many have been given new functions to extend the life of the building. One very famous Palace of Fine Arts is in Chicago, though most visitors are unaware of its early beginnings.

The Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893 and went on to become one of the most well-known World’s Fairs in history. Its Fine Arts building is one of the Fair’s few remaining structures and is currently home to the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park, along with some of Chicago’s other popular museums.

Character of the city

Montreal is a city with considerable French colonial history dating back to the 16th century. It began as a missionary settlement but soon became a fur-trading centre, a role that was enhanced after the conquest of New France by the British in 1763. Montreal’s location on the St. Lawrence proved to be a major advantage in its development as a transportation, manufacturing, and financial centre. From the time of the confederation of Canada (1867), Montreal was the largest metropolitan centre in the country until it was overtaken by Toronto in the 1970s. French Canadians are the majority population in Montreal, which is often said to be the second largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris), though the accuracy of that statement is sometimes questioned (principally by those who make the same claim for Kinshasa and Algiers). Montreal’s economy, however, was long dominated by an Anglophone minority. The city has been a destination for many immigrants and is widely considered to be one of North America’s most cosmopolitan cities. Montreal remains a city of great charm, vivacity, and gaiety, as well as one of unquestioned modernity.

Just walking the streets of Montreal is an experience, especially the historic centre known as Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal), which provides a window into the city’s rich history with its cobblestone streets and architectural styles ranging from the 16th century to the present.

How the 'World of Tomorrow' Became a Thing of the Past

W hat happened to the World’s Fair? On April 30th, which marks the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, the question becomes especially poignant. How did the global cultural events that inaugurated broadcast television (New York 1939), built the Eiffel Tower (Paris 1889), and introduced the world to the Ferris Wheel (Chicago 1893) disappear?

Actually, they haven’t: World’s Fairs haven’t gone anywhere, it’s just America that has moved on.

The next World’s Fair is scheduled for Spring 2015 in Milan Italy, but expo-goers who are looking to catch the latest glimpse at the “world of tomorrow,” will be disappointed. “A lot of Americans imagine World’s Fairs as they were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but the medium has changed,” says World’s Fair consultant Urso Chappell. “Whereas the focus was on progress or the space age and things like that at one time, the themes tend to be more environmental now,” he adds.

With smaller scope and a concentration on solving problems rather than trumpeting triumphs, World’s Fairs just don’t capture the imagination like they used to. Milan’s theme — Feeding the planet, energy for life — focuses on ending hunger and developing food sustainability. By contrast, the 1939 World’s Fair’s Dawn of a New Day slogan exuded aspirational wonder and 1964’s (which had its 50th anniversary last week), centered on Peace Through Understanding.

Then there’s the problem of proximity. There hasn’t been a World’s Fair in North America since 1986 in Vancouver. During the Fairs’ heydays, wealthy and middle class families would make pilgrimages across the seas to meccas of modernization to see the wonders firsthand, but the internet put an end to that. “I don’t know today how a World’s Fair can be viable, because everybody has a camera in their pocket,” says Louise Weinberg, World’s Fair Archive Manager at the Queens Museum. A quick search on your phone has replaced an expensive trip to a foreign country.

Cost plays a significant role too. Unlike the Olympics, which occasionally have made money for their host cities, there’s no profit from hosting a Fair. “Running a Fair is a losing proposition, you don’t do it to make money” says Weinberg.

Canada 150 unhappiness? Blame 1967.

It was a 'giddy, insane' year. And the events it set off are at the centre of the national debate unfolding today.

Pavilion of the U.S at the Expo 1967 in Montreal. (Leber/Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

As July 1 approaches, with as many as 450,000 people expected to assemble on Parliament Hill and stream through the capital region’s various holiday weekend venues, the shadow of terrorist outrages in Europe has caused the Canada 150 celebrations in Ottawa to be enveloped within the most ambitious security operation in the city’s history.

Even if everything comes off without a glitch, the national sesquicentennial anniversary of Confederation, so far, is not exactly shaping up as a replay of 1967, the Summer of Love.

There’s more than a little grumpiness in the national mood.

A recent Ekos Poll shows that only a third of Canadians think they’re better off than the generation before them, and over the past decade the proportion of Canadians who say the next generation will be better off has fallen to one in 10. Not everyone is in a celebratory frame of mind.

Last week’s “Colonialism 150” rumpus at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, where gallery curators pasted an inversion of the stylized Canada 150 maple leaf on the front door, is just one spinoff in a campaign of sorts that purports to show that this year’s commemorations celebrate “150 years of the Christian, fascist capitalist, colonial project called Confederation.”

There are arguments to be made for that unhelpfully overwrought proposition—or at least it’s easy to get the point of it. But a far more sturdy proposition is that what happened in 1867 has much less to do with the way any of us argue about Canada nowadays than we might imagine. In his just-published book, The Year Canadians Lost their Minds and Found their Country: The Centennial of 1967, author Tom Hawthorn makes the case that 1967 is the year we should be thinking about: “The Canada of 2017 owes more to decisions made in the wake of 1967 than to the negotiations conducted in 1867.”

Until that “happy, giddy, insane year,” Canadians only rarely managed to muster much of an opinion about their country at all. And then, suddenly, we could barely contain ourselves. Hawthorn’s opening essay recalls his Montreal childhood, and his enchantment with the spectacle of Expo 67, the World’s Fair Canada hosted in Montreal that year.

But official spectacles alone didn’t make 1967 the year it became. “For all the public works, all the construction and the flash of Expo 67,” Hawthorn writes,” it was the spirit of ordinary Canadians that best expressed the joy of living in the peaceable kingdom.”

After a long stretch of boredom and public indifference, something seemed to just bubble up in the weeks before Jan. 1, 1967. Much credit is due to the grand-gesture efforts encouraged by the irrepressible Judy LaMarsh, the secretary of state for Canada at the time, but it was the spontaneity of ordinary Canadians that turned things around.

Several widely watched events were solitary affairs. The 24-year-old welder and heavy equipment operator Hank Gallant endured nine blizzards and -39 degrees Celsius temperatures to walk across Canada, from Victoria to Newfoundland, sleeping under trees and in haystacks along the way, picking up the occasional odd job to pay for his meals. It took him 280 days.

Some commemorations were just quirky and fun: In Smiths Falls, Ont., 500 men stopped shaving, to emulate the bearded Fathers of Confederation. Other efforts were in the vein of the “Indigenous reconciliation” efforts that we tend to think of as some kind of recent innovation: The students at Ottawa’s Laurentian High School donated a 2,000-book library to the far less fortunate students of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan.

Some commemorations were almost private affairs. Winnipeg’s Margaret English put her cake-decorating talents to work adorning 36 sugar cubes with tiny little paintings of each of the provinces and territories’ official flowers. She gave them to friends. Other contributions were publicity-seeking, wholly eccentric affairs—Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, organized a bathtub race in the choppy waters of the Strait of Georgia. The event became an annual tradition, attracting entrants from around the world.

It was a global phenomenon, too. The federal Centennial Commission had called for the ringing of bells across Canada at midnight on Jan. 1, 1967, but the people of St. Paul, Alta., taking the cue from their own civic-minded Paul Drolet, wanted to go one better: bells ringing around the world. Drolet conscripted the people of St. Paul into writing letters and working the phones, and in the first moments of 1967, bells rang out, in sequence, beginning in Japan and the Philippines.

Ships in the harbour of Helsinki, Finland, sounded their bells, and the chiming was repeated by ships far out in the Atlantic until the clamour reached Newfoundland. The Quebec Jesuit Gonzague Hudon rang the bells at St. Joseph’s Church in Nazareth. In the English village of Gomshall, in Surrey, 87-year-old Alfred Dowling stayed up late and rang the doorbells of all his neighbours.

There were intensely local celebrations, too. The 504 townspeople of Bowsman, Man., a town roughly 500 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, brought in the new year with the singing of Auld Land Syne and the fiery climax of their own centennial project: a towering bonfire of outhouses made redundant by the town’s construction of a sewage treatment plant.

Put all that together with Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, CBC extravaganzas, the Confederation Train that crossed the country with a rolling museum that ended up hosting 2.7 million visitors—three times as many as anticipated—and the mood changes. The next thing you know there’s the maple leaf on backpacks in Europe. There’s Trudeaumania, bilingualism and multiculturalism, and a persistent national anxiety about the crippling poverty and alienation suffered by so many Indigenous communities.

Everything we celebrated and fussed about and laughed at in 1967 went into building the national stage where we play out the self-loathing, the earnest self-criticism, the hilarious self-deprecation and the striving, passive-aggressive boastfulness that defines Canadian “patriotism” today.

It didn’t begin in 1867. Not even close. It didn’t even start until 1967.

Relics of the World’s Fair: Montreal

After visiting  Paris ,  Chicago ,  Barcelona, and New York City, Atlas Obscura’s tour of World’s Fair relics stops next in Montreal, Canada, which only hosted one fair — but it left two of the city’s most eye-catching buildings behind.

Montreal Biosphere (photograph by Hilverd Reker)

One of the landmarks remaining from Montreal’s Expo 1967 is a visitor from Canada’s neighbor to the south that stayed long after the fair. The Biosphère was originally the United States Pavilion — a 20-story geodesic dome designed by Buckminister Fuller. Fuller championed the geodesic dome as a design for a livable space that used only one-fifth the materials used in a more conventional building.

Expo 67 Geodesic Dome (photograph by Shawn Nystrand)

The dome’s eye-catching design proved Fuller right — it was made of only a steel framework was sheathed in a clear acrylic skin. Inside were exhibits on such Americana as patchwork quilts and Raggedy Ann dolls, various presidential campaign memorabilia, exhibits on NASA’s space program, props from popular Hollywood films, and Elvis Presley’s guitar.  

Fair organizers left the giant dome behind after the Expo, and for a while the city of Montreal used it as a general recreational space until a fire in 1976 burned the  acrylic skin away. The sphere was then closed to the public for 15 years.

Fire At The Biosphere (photograph by Gilles Herman)

Then, in 1995, the City of Montreal and Environment Canada re-opened the Biosphere as an environmental museum and eco-study center, with an emphasis on the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and the St. Laurence Seaway. The free museum also offers a changing series of exhibitions on environmental issues, such as pollution, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development.

Inside the Biosphere (photograph by Alex Williams)

Another architectural marvel at the Expo was more home-grown.

The Habitat housing complex, presented as a model “future community,” was  designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie as his master’s thesis project at nearby McGill University.

Inspired by how Lego blocks snapped together, he proposed a similar sort of modular design for constructing apartment complexes. The Habitat complex, built using his design, became an exhibit in its own right, allowing curious visitors inside some of the sample module housing units part of the complex also served as housing for visiting dignitaries to the fair.

After the fair, the individual apartments were put on the real estate market. Safdie originally hoped the modular units would be a means to develop affordable housing, but the building’s high popularity have since resulted in equally high costs. 

While those are two of the Expo 67’s most architecturally magnificent, there was much more to the Montreal World’s Fair. Below are some photographs of the grand event, in all its futuristic 1960s glory:

The Expo-Express train station (via Wikimedia)

Inside the USSR Pavilion (via Wikimedia)

The Canadian Paper Pavilion (photograph by Laurent Bélanger)

Ethiopia and Morocco Pavilions (photograph by Laurent Bélanger)

Man in the Community and Man and His Health Pavilions (via Wikimedia)

The opening ceremonies site today (photograph by colink./Flickr user)

Stay tuned for more in our series on World’s Fair relics, and be sure to visit Paris, Chicago, Barcelona, and New York City. 

Canada 150: When the impossible dream came true at Expo 67

And if Canada’s most popular of history chroniclers saw the hand of providence at work, who’s to argue?

“We see it now as one of the shining moments of our history, up there with the building of the Pacific railway or the victory at Vimy Ridge,” Berton wrote 30 years after Expo in his book 1967: The Last Good Year.

He was hardly the only writer of the day caught up in the rapture.

“Its very existence is a symbol of the vigor and enthusiasm of the Canadians who conceived an impossible idea and made it come true,” gushed Time magazine.

Half a century on, as Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Expo remains epic in the national mythology, the coming of age of a country and a generation.

It has been called our Woodstock, our “Summer of Love,” �nada’s Camelot.” For �s teens, it was our very own On the Road, a pilgrimage of patriotism, millions of personal declarations of independence.

Who knew then, of course, that beneath the apparent fraternité of the two solitudes a crisis in Quebec was brewing?

The �s were a decade kicked off by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural invitation to �gin anew,” to make civility and sincerity our relationship touchstones at home and abroad.

“Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce,” he said, after taking the oath of office.

By contemporary standards, that speech stands as both richly poetic and naively utopian. At the time, it stirred imaginations.

Then, everything seemed possible. Youth was in the ascendance. The Feminine Mystique had launched a revolution.

Still, if possibility and idealism were in the air, they were underwritten by urgency and necessity, by a sense — with Vietnam, The Silent Spring, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War — that the centre would not, could not hold.

It seemed no mere coincidence that the Expo of 1967 had gone from what was initially planned as the 50-year anniversary celebration of the Russian Revolution to marking the centennial of Canada’s Confederation.

The Soviet Union, in 1955, had first been awarded the chance to host the 1967 world exposition, but in 1962 bowed out. In November that year, Expo was awarded to Canada.

While Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau is often credited with delivering Expo, the idea was conceived, by most accounts, by Sen. Mark Drouin during a visit to the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958, when he thought it would be a splendid way to celebrate the centennial.

Drapeau was reportedly cool at first to the idea. But when he bought in, he did so with gusto.

There was a three-day “thinkers” conference in April 1963 in Montebello, Que. From that, thanks in part to novelist Gabrielle Roy, came the theme of “Man and his World,” or Terre des Hommes, the notion borrowed from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1939 book of that title.

If it would likely have to be de-gendered for modern times, it was a brave and imaginative stroke. Not for this event a cavalcade of the latest gadgets. Instead, it was to celebrate values and aspirations.

To be sure, it took aspiration of a grand scale to contemplate holding the celebration on man-made islands in Montreal. Even the new prime minister, Lester Pearson, thought that notion preposterous.

“With four million square miles of land we should be able to find a plot some place,” he told Drapeau.

On a visit to the site in August 1963, Pearson’s doubts remained.

“I would be less than frank if I did not add that I feel we all have cause for concern over the magnitude of the tasks that must be accomplished.”


But accomplished those tasks were, and rise those islands did.

To them would come cavalcades of families, school groups, cool kids, holiday makers, presidents, royalty, international rogues.

Charles de Gaulle, the Shah of Iran, Haile Selassie, U Thant, Lyndon Johnson, Grace Kelly. Why, Ed Sullivan even broadcast a show from Expo!

In all, more than 50 million visitors — more than double the population of the country — showed up to take in the artist’s paradise, a wonderland of avant-garde architecture, this Canadian melding of London’s Carnaby St. and Disneyland and The Jetsons and all the world’s fairs that had ever been.

Not, of course, that it was without that Canadian penchant for large snits over small matters.

The now-famous Expo symbol, designed by Montreal artist Julien Hrt, provoked much debate. Its theme of unity and common goals made a circle of stick-figure men with outstretched arms, and resonated of the peace symbol so prevalent in the day.

Those eager to have it replaced included former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who denounced it as, among other things, 𠇊n arctic monstrosity.”

But it worked. Splendidly. As did so much of that audacious Canadian undertaking.

For half a century, as nostalgia has burnished the moment, Canadians who made the trip recalled its impact.

When Lester Pearson closed that magical gathering in Montreal, he said: 𠇎xpo’s lasting impact is: That the genius and fate of man know no boundaries but are universal that the future peace and well-being of the world community of men depend on achieving the kind of unity of purpose within the great diversity of national effort that has been achieved here at this greatest of all Canada’s Centennial achievements.”

Right, 50 years on, he surely remains.


Gabrielle Roy, the novelist, was part of the brain trust that devised the theme Man and his World. 𠇌ould a world exhibition, an exchange of displays on a mass scale, take its inspiration from such an ideal?”

Mayor Jean Drapeau, credited (once he took to the idea) with being the leader without whom Expo would not have happened, promised: “Montreal will not be plagued by lack of imagination.”

Col. Edward Churchill, a retired army officer who had helped build airfields during the Second World War, became the exhibition’s master builder, though he was initially unenthused at the prospect of leaving a comfy post in Ottawa to take up the challenge. “Me? Go to Expo? You’re out of your goddamn mind!”

Moshe Safdie, then not yet 30, was the Israeli-born designer who dreamed up the futuristic apartment complex Habitat for Humanity, widely regarded as one of Expo’s biggest hits. “There was, up until the mid-century, the sense that important ideas came from elsewhere,” he told the Star last year.

Prime Minister Lester Pearson, when he opened Expo in April 1967: “We are witness today to the fulfilment of one of the most daring acts of faith in Canadian enterprise and ability ever undertaken. That faith was not misplaced. But Expo is much more than a great Canadian achievement of design and planning and construction. It is also a monument to Man. It tells the exciting and inspiring story of a world that belongs not to any one nation, but to every nation.”