Recalling the optimism of Expo ’67

It’s hard to believe that it will be forty-five years ago this spring since the opening of Canada’s first World’s Fair – Expo ’67.

I have assembled a number of post-card images from that summer (some photos, a few just artist’s concepts).

(Post-cards were the text messages of the day, sent by Canada Post with 5-cent stamps!)

We lived about an hour’s drive away, all the faster thanks to national centennial projects such as four-lane highways! I was seven years old so my memories have that bias but a brief film introduces the International and Universal Exposition:

“Passports” were issued, both day and season passes, and visitors were encouraged to have our passports stamped at each pavilion visited.

I remember arriving at huge parking lots near the Expo site, divided into sections with signs on light standards picturing animals and sub-divided by number, so our first task as kids was to commit to memory where we had parked: “Giraffe 7”, “Penguin 4”, etc.

From there we took the “Expo Express”, trains that looked like today’s older subway cars in Toronto, over to the main entrance.

Notice Habitat ’67, an architectural gem which remains a very special place to live even to this day. Hard to believe it was the product of Moshe Safdie‘s thesis at McGill University!

A great place to start, and meet up were we ever to get lost (I do not recall any such emergency), was the site of the iconic Canada and Katimavik Pavilions.

Like most of the exhibition buildings these are long gone but a nearby sculpture has lived to see many another day, as documented during my winter visit to Montréal two weeks ago, when I posed at Alexander Calder’s “Man”:

The exposition’s theme “Terre des Hommes – Man and His World” was so-named before such exclusive language would have been over-ruled.  Yet a more optimistic time, in my limited life-span, has never been seen.  Remember the first IMAX theatre, I believe it was Bell’s, where visitors stood along a circular railing while all matter of stomach-quivering adventure was experienced as we travelled across Canada?

The Federal Republic of Germany:


The United Kingdom:

The U.S.S.R. (when the Soviet Union was in a space race with its Cold War adversary the United States):

Buckminster Fuller’s spectacular geodesic dome, the United States of America pavilion, worth two post-cards – day and night – is one of the few structures still standing, with one very important foot-note. Now home to Montréal’s Biosphère which, with an irony next to foreboding, the federal government translates as “Environment Museum” the building suffered a major fire in 1976, destroying the transparent acrylic coating, and remained an empty shell for many years. Its surviving steel truss structure remained in place, however, thus making the Biosphère possible.

The Biosphère as I saw it earlier this month:

Another surviving – thriving – edifice from Expo ’67 is France’s pavilion, now home to Casino de Montréal (alas Expo’s monorail – named “Minirail” if memory serves – was dismantled when Terre des Hommes was no more):

Living as close as we did to Expo, it only seemed natural that guests of an aunt and uncle’s collection of cottages in Portland, Ontario, should come to our place to stay for a few nights. Our make-shift B & B, while charging less than even the cheapest motels, made enough over the summer -as I think I’ve recounted before – for Mom and Dad to pave our driveway.


Inaction on Champlain Bridge not just a tempting symbol against Ottawa for pols

A quick family story: During the summer of Montréal’s Expo ‘67, far and away Canada’s best centennial project, an aunt and uncle from Portland, Ontario along with a great-aunt from Lancaster, were on their way to our place for the night after seeing a Scottish tattoo at the Autostade on the edge of the Expo site.  Situated where it was, I’m sure my uncle was not the only stranger in town to mistakenly head on to the nearby Champlain Bridge, missing the turn to Autoroute Décarie.  At the time the bridge charged tolls, and in the old-fashioned way with collector booths, and Uncle Homer was not a believer in road tolls of any kind so it was bad enough to pay to go where he didn’t want to go but paying again to retrace his way back to the correct route was a major piss-off!  In today’s parlance he did not “let it go” for a long while (nor could the rest of us resist teasing him about it!)


The Champlain Bridge would not dare charge tolls nowadays given the need for its replacement, as the CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault reported on The National last evening.

This bridge is not merely a commuter artery, as important as that is, but is also the island of Montréal’s main connection to the autoroute which carries goods to and from the United States.  Does that not give it an importance which all levels of government (and their would-be successors) can agree on, the perils of doing too little (“repairs”) in the short-term just too stupid to contemplate?

A grand old Montréal building enters a new, uncertain phase

When I read news from over the weekend that another former Montréal banking landmark is up for sale – there’s a wealth of information from this link – I found the photo (below) of “The Canadian Bank of Commerce” which I took a few years ago.

(In 1961 it merged with The Imperial Bank of Canada to become today’s Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or CIBC.) Not long after that their charcoal-coloured skyscraper was built up the hill at the corner of Peel and Dorchester (now boul. René-Lévesque) in the heady days of the construction of Place Ville-Marie, the new Métro system and Expo ’67.

Whatever happens to this imposing structure, I trust the people of Montréal to put it to good use.