Expo 67 was Canada's main celebration during its centennial year. The fair was originally intended to be held in Moscow, to help the Soviet Union celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution but, for various reasons, the Soviets decided to cancel, and Canada was awarded it in the fall of 1962.
The project was not originally overwhelmingly supported in Canada. It took the determination of Montreal's mayor, and a new team of managers, to guide it past political, physical and temporal hurdles. Defying even a computer analysis that said it could not be done, the fair opened on time.
After October 1967, Expo 67 lived on as an exhibition called Man and His World during the summer months, from 1968 until 1981. By that time, most of the buildings had fallen into disrepair and were dismantled. Today, the islands that hosted the world are mainly used as parkland and for recreational use, with only a few remaining structures from Expo 67 to show that the fair was held there. To this day, many Canadians from that time still regard it as one of the country's finest cultural achievements.
The idea of hosting the 1967 World's Fair dates back to 1956. But it was in 1958 when Conservative Senator Mark Drouin pushed for the exhibition that the idea of hosting a fair to celebrate Canada's centennial began to take shape. Initially it was offered to Toronto but politicians there rejected the idea. However, Montreal's mayor Sarto Fournier backed the proposal, allowing Canada to make a bid to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). At the BIE's May 5, 1960 meeting in Paris, Moscow was awarded the fair after five rounds of voting that eliminated Austria's and then Canada's bids. In April 1962, the Soviets scrapped plans to host the fair due to financial constraints and concerns about travelers bringing western ideas and customs to the Soviet public. Montreal's new mayor, Jean Drapeau, lobbied the Canadian government to try again for the fair, which they did. On November 13, 1962, the BIE changed the location of the World's Fair to Canada, and Expo 67 went on to become the third-best attended of all BIE-sanctioned world expositions, as of 2008 (after Osaka and Paris).
Several sites were proposed as the main Expo grounds. One location that was considered was Mount Royal Park, to the north of the downtown core. But it was Drapeau's idea to create new islands in the St. Lawrence river, along with enlarging Île Sainte-Hélène. The choice also prevented land speculation, and overcame opposition from Montreal's surrounding municipalities.
Pierre Dupuy, a diplomat, was named Commissioner General, after Diefenbaker appointee Paul Bienvenue resigned from the post in 1963. One of the main responsibilities of the Commissioner General was to attract other nations to build pavilions at Expo. Dupuy would spend most of 1964 and 1965 soliciting 125 countries, spending more time abroad than in Canada.. Dupuy's 'right-hand' man was Robert Fletcher Shaw, the deputy commissioner general and vice-president of the fair's corporation. He also replaced another Diefenbaker appointee, C.F. Carsley, on the board of the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition. Shaw was a professional engineer and builder, and he was in charge when Dupuy was away. Dupuy hired Andrew Kniewasser as the general manager. They called themselves Les Durs - the tough guys - and they were in charge of building Expo. The two main people that were in charge of organizing the fair were: French Canadian Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, director of operations, dubbed "the mayor of the Fair," and English Canadian Colonel Edward Churchill, director of installations. As historian Pierre Berton put it, the cooperation between Canada's French and English speaking communities "was the secret of Expo's success–'the Québécois flair, the English-Canadian pragmatism.' However, Berton also points out that this is an over-simplification of national stereotypes. Arguably Expo did, for a short period anyway, bridge the 'Two Solitudes.'
The organizers also created seventeen theme elements for Man and his World:
Construction started on August 13, 1963, when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson pulled a lever that signalled a front-end loader to dump the first batch of fill to enlarge Île Sainte-Hélène. The 25 million tons of fill needed to construct the islands was coming from the Montreal metro's excavations, a public works project that was already under construction before Expo was awarded to Montreal. Expo's initial period of construction mainly centred on enlarging Île Ste-Hélène and creating the artificial island of Île Notre-Dame. While construction continued, the land rising out of Montreal harbour was not owned by the Expo Corporation yet. After the final mounds of earth completed the islands, the grounds that would hold the fair were officially transferred from the City of Montreal to the corporation on June 20, 1964. This gave Colonel Churchill only 1042 days to have everything built and functioning for opening day. To get Expo built in time, Churchill used the then new project management tool known as the critical path method (CPM). On April 28, 1967, opening day, everything was ready, with one exception: Habitat 67, which was then displayed as a work in progress.
Building and enlarging the islands, along with the new Concorde Bridge built to connect them with the site-specific mass transit system known as the Montreal Expo Express, plus a boat pier, cost more than the Saint Lawrence Seaway project did only five years earlier: this was even before any buildings or infrastructure were constructed. With the initial phase of construction completed, it is easy to see why the budget for the fair was going to be larger than anyone expected. In the fall of 1963, Expo's general manager, Andrew Kniewasser, presented the master plan and the preliminary budget of $167 million for construction: it would balloon to over $439 million by 1967. The plan and budget narrowly passed a vote in Pearson's federal cabinet, passing by one vote, and then it was officially submitted on December 23, 1963.
The official Expo 67 theme song was composed by Stephane Venne and was titled: "Hey Friend, Say Friend / Un Jour, Un Jour". Complaints were made about the suitability of the song as lyrics mention neither Montreal nor Expo 67. The song was selected from an international competition. Over 2,200 entries from 35 countries were made.
But the song that most Canadians associate with Expo was written by Bobby Gimby, a veteran commercial jingle writer who composed the popular Centennial tune "Ca-na-da", which went on to sell over 500,000 copies. Gimby earned the name the "Pied Piper of Canada". The music for "Ca-na-da" was arranged by Ben McPeek, who also created the music played in the Canadian Pulp and Paper Industry pavilion. In 1971, Gimby granted all future royalties to the Boy Scouts of Canada.
The theme song Something to Sing About, used for the Canadian pavilion, was initially written for a 1963 television special.
The Ontario pavilion also had its own theme song: "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow", which has evolved to become the unofficial theme song for the province.
Official opening ceremonies were held on Thursday afternoon, April 27, 1967. The ceremonies were an invitation-only event, held at Place des Nations. Governor General of Canada Roland Michener proclaimed the fair open after the Expo flame was ignited by Prime Minister Pearson. On hand were over 7,000 media and invited guests including 53 heads of state. Over 1000 reporters covered the event, broadcast in NTSC Colour, live via satellite, to a worldwide audience of over 700,000,000 viewers and listeners.
Expo 67 officially opened to the public on the morning of Friday, April 28, 1967, with a space age style countdown. A capacity crowd at Place d'Accueil participated in the atomic clock-controlled countdown that ended when the fair opened precisely at 9:30 a.m. An estimated crowd of between 310,000 and 335,000 visitors showed up for opening day, as opposed to the expected crowd of 200,000. The first person through the Expo gates at Place d'Accueil was Al Carter, a 41-year-old jazz drummer from Chicago, who was recognized for his accomplishment by Expo 67's director of operations Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien. Beaubien presented Carter with a gold watch for his feat.
On opening day, there was considerable comment on the uniform of the hostesses from the UK Pavilion. The dresses had been designed to the then new minidress style, introduced in the previous year by Mary Quant. By the middle of the summer, nearly every other pavilion had raised the hem of the uniforms of their hostesses. Canadian women were quick to take to the liberated style of the miniskirt.
A notable feature of Expo 67 was the World Festival of Art and Entertainment, featuring art galleries, opera, ballet and theatre companies, alongside orchestras, jazz groups, famous Canadian pop musicians and other cultural attractions. Many pavilions had music and performance stages, where visitors could find free concerts and shows. Most of the featured entertainment took place in the following venues: La Place des Arts; Expo Theatre; Place des Nations; La Ronde and Automotive Stadium.
The La Ronde amusement park was always intended to be a lasting legacy of the fair. Most of its rides and booths were permanent. When the Expo fairgrounds closed nightly, at around 10:00 p.m., visitors could still be entertained at La Ronde, which closed at 2:30 a.m.
The fair was visited by many of the most notable people of the day including Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon Johnson, Princess Grace, Jacqueline Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Ethiopia's leader Haile Selassie, Charles de Gaulle, Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich. Musicians like Thelonious Monk, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane entertained the crowds.
Despite its successes, there were problems: FLQ terrorists had initially threatened to disrupt the fair, but were inactive during this period. Vietnam war protesters picketed during the opening day, April 28. American President Lyndon B. Johnson's visit became a focus of war protesters. The Cuba pavilion attracted threats that it would be destroyed by anti-Castro forces that never materialized. In June, the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East flared up again in the Six Day War, which resulted in Kuwait pulling out of the fair in protest to the way Western nations dealt with the war. The president of France, Charles De Gaulle, caused an international incident on July 24 when he addressed thousands at Montreal City Hall by yelling out the now famous words "Vive Montréal... Vive le Québec ...Vive le Québec Libre!" He appeared the next day at Expo and received the normal VIP treatment from the Expo staff, as was expected for a head of state, despite his diplomatic faux pas. Habitat 67 was not completed by opening day, so it had to be displayed as a work-in-progress, which actually made it even more popular.
In September, the most serious problem turned out to be a 30-day transit strike. By the end of July, estimates that the fair would exceed 60 million visitors were predicted, but the strike cut deeply into attendance and revenue figures, just as it was cruising along to its conclusion. Another major problem, beyond the control of Expo's management, was guest accommodation and lodging. Logexpo was created to direct visitors to accommodations in the Montreal area, which usually meant that visitors would stay at the homes of people they were unfamiliar with, rather than traditional hotels or motels. The Montreal populace opened their homes to thousands of guests. Unfortunately for some visitors, they were sometimes sent to less than respectable establishments where operators took full advantage of the tourist trade. Logexpo would get most of the blame for directing visitors to these establishments. But overall, a visit to Expo from outside Montreal was still seen as a bargain.
The fair's financial fortunes did better than expected. Expo was intended to have a deficit, shared between the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Significantly better-than-expected attendance revenue reduced the fair's debt to well below the original estimates. The final financial statistics, in 1967 Canadian dollars, were : Revenues of $221,239,872; Costs were $431,904,683; Deficit of $210,664,811.
The most popular pavilion was the Soviet Union's exhibit. It attracted about 13 million visitors. Rounding out the top five pavilions, in terms of attendance were: Canada 11 million visitors, the United States 9 million, France 8.5 million, and Czechoslovakia 8 million.
Absent countries included:
After 1967, the site struggled for years as a standing collection of international pavilions known as "Man and His World." However, as attendance declined, the physical condition of the site deteriorated, and less and less of it was open to the public. In 1975 the Île Notre-Dame section of the site was completely rebuilt around the new rowing basin for Montreal's 1976 Summer Olympics. Space for the basin, the boathouses, the changing rooms and other buildings was obtained by demolishing many of the former pavilions and cutting in half the area taken by the artificial lake and the canals. In 1976, a fire destroyed the acrylic outer skin of Buckminster Fuller's dome. With the site falling into disrepair it began to resemble ruins of a futuristic city. In the late 1970s, scenes for Robert Altman's post-apocalyptic ice age film Quintet were shot on site, as was the "Greetings from Earth" episode of Battlestar Galactica, which portrayed it as the ruins of a city left behind after a biological attack. The music video for the song Ghost Town by Cheap Trick was also shot on this site. Some of the footage showing the United Kingdom pavilion was reused in Buck Rogers. Minor thematic exhibitions were held at the Atlantic pavilion and Quebec pavilion, until the Montreal Casino was built. The remaining original exhibits of the site closed for good in 1982.
After the Man and his World exhibition was discontinued, the former site for Expo 67 on Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, has been incorporated into a municipal park run by the city of Montreal. In the year 2000, the park was renamed from Parc des Îles to Parc Jean-Drapeau, after the mayor that brought the fair to Montreal. In 2006, the corporation that runs the park also changed its name from the Société du parc des Îles to the Société du parc Jean-Drapeau. Two prominent buildings remaining in use on the Expo grounds are the Buckminster Fuller dome (now operating as an environmental sciences museum called Biosphère) and the Habitat 67 residences. Also, the French and Quebec pavilions now form the Montreal Casino. La Toundra Hall is part of the surviving structural remains of the Canadian pavilion. It is now a restaurant and special events hall. Another part of the pavilion now serves as the administration building of Parc Jean-Drapeau. Katimavik's distinctive inverted pyramid and much of the rest of the Canadian pavilion were dismantled during the 1970s. The Jamaican pavilion is still standing, and Place des Nations, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held, also survives. A part of the Korean pavilion remains as a shelter for the bus route that connects with the metro station. Additionally, the former Tunisian Pavilion exists as a City of Montreal/Parc Jean Drapeau administration and logistics center. It is within the vicinity of the Cosmos Bridge, which connects Ile-St-Helene to Ile-Notre-Dame. The bridge linked the two islands and at either end were the American and Soviet Pavilions respectively. Other remaining structures include sculptures, lampposts and landscaping. The rapid transit subway system still has at least one "Man and His World" logo on a station's wall. La Ronde survives and is expanding. In 2001 it was sold to the New York amusement park company Six Flags. The Alcan Aquarium built for the Expo remained in operation for a couple of decades until its closure in 1991.
Another attraction on today's Île Notre-Dame site is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve race track that is used for the Canadian Grand Prix. The Olympic basin is used today by many local rowing clubs. A recently built beach on the shores of the remaining artificial lake, has been very popular during the summer months. There are many acres of parkland and cycle paths on both Île Sainte-Hélène and the western tip of Île Notre-Dame. In previous years the site has been used for a number of events such as an international botanical festival, Les floralies. The young trees and shrubs planted for Expo 67 are now mature. The plants introduced during the botanical events have flourished also. In the warmest weeks of the summer the two islands are cool, leafy havens compared to the overheated city. In the winter, brave Montrealers skate on the frozen Olympic basin, whipped by the glacial winds coming from the Saint Lawrence River.
In a political and cultural context, Expo 67 was seen as a landmark moment in Canadian history. As the Montreal Star described it: "the most staggering Canadian achievement since this vast land was finally linked by a transcontinental railway". In 1969, as a salute to the cultural impact the fair had on the city, Montreal's new Major League baseball team, the Expos, was named after the event. 1967 was also the year that invited Expo guest Charles De Gaulle, on July 24, addressed thousands at Montreal City Hall by yelling out the now famous words: "Vive Montréal... Vive le Québec ...Vive le Québec Libre!" (See Vive le Québec libre speech). De Gaulle was rebutted in Ottawa by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson: "Canadians do not need to be liberated, Canada will remain united and will reject any effort to destroy her unity". In the years that followed, the tensions between the English and French communities would continue. As a contemporary homage to the fair, satirists Bowser and Blue wrote a full-length musical set at Expo 67 called "The Paris of America" which ran for six sold-out weeks at Centaur Theatre in Montreal in April and May 2003. Also, the song "Purple Toupee" by They Might Be Giants contains the line "I shouted out 'Free the Expo 67!'" In the Simpson's episode "She used to be my Girl" (2004), when Homer is trying to convince Marge she led a good life, one of the things he mentions is that she has a "TV tray from Expo 67."
Expo 67 was one of the most successful World's Fairs and is still regarded fondly by Canadians. Some even consider it to be one of the biggest events of the 20th century. 1967 is often referred to as "the last good year" before economic decline, Quebec sovereigntism (seen as negative from a federalist viewpoint), and political apathy became common. In this way, it has much in common with the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. In 2007, a new group, Expo 17, is looking to bring a smaller-scale – BIE sanctioned – exposition to Montreal for the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and Canada's Sesquicentennial(2017). Expo 17 hopes a new World's Fair will regenerate the spirit of Canada's landmark centennial project.