When we decided to go to Montréal, one of the first things I really got excited about was the prospect of seeing what was left of Expo ’67. For those unaware, Expo ’67 was the 1967 World’s Fair, held in Montréal on 2 massive man-made islands in the St. Lawrence River. Wikipedia has a great article on the Expo, but this Canadian site collects an immense amount of photographs of the fair.
Its one of the most successful Expos ever held, and because of its time (1967), the fair is like catnip to a Midcentury-Modern fan like myself. The architecture, the graphic design, the whole world view of the Expo– its fascinating. But that was 43 years ago, nothing is left, right? Well, for the most part, that’s true. But there are a few things a Expo ’67 junkie can still see.
The only pavilions that remain in Montréal are that of France and Quebec, which have now been transformed into a high class casino, and the United States pavilion, now an environmental museum. Here’s what it looks like now:
Monréal’s metro system was created for the 1967 fair, and the earth removed to create the tunnels was used to create the island fairgrounds. Now called Parc Jean Drapeau, the islands themselves have been transformed into giant parks that provide a huge amount of green space for the city, as well as playing host to a number of special events. In 1976, Olympic events were held on the islands. While we were there, the smaller island was host to the Grand Prix. On Sundays in summer, there’s the Piknic Electronik, which hosts a huge dance party under the Expo ’67 sculpture by Alexander Calder (love this photo!):
Walking around the massive park, you see other remnants of the fair. The Korean pavilion is now a shed for park vehicles. A light post here, a sculpture there, little pieces are still all around. But on the very edge of the Île Ste-Hélène, you can still see the Place des Nations:
Once a stadium for special events and ceremonies, now a parking lot. Its true, the inside was being used for vehicles, I’m guessing for Grand Prix related cars. Most of the structure was overgrown with grass and barricaded off. But you can still get inside and see that iconic Expo ’67 logo:
It was sad to see it this way. But at least it wasn’t demolished entirely. Pictures of it during the fair are hard to come by, but there’s some here. The fair had a bittersweet end. The ground were open through the 1970s, but since the pavilions were all made as temporary structures they began to fall apart almost immediately. There’s a famous episode of Battlestar Gallactica, apparently (that’s for you, W.), that uses the decaying fairgrounds as a backdrop. That was in 1978. By the early 80s, most of the grounds were demolished and the park as we see it today was created. What else could they do?
Montréal has grown and changed since 1967. After the fair, Montréal hosted the 1976 summer Olympics, but soon after political troubles in Quebec dealt a blow to the city’s prosperity. By the late 80s, Montréal had slumped behind other Canadian cities in terms of economic growth– mainly a consequence of political conflict regarding the separatist movement. But these days, Montréal seems to be back in full force. And while the world is a very different place from the optimistic, futuristic mood of 1967, I think the people of Montréal have a great attitude and approach towards life.
Now, even though I can’t say I was at Expo ’67, I can at least understand the scale of the event a little better. I’m glad I got my Expo ’67 photo-op, all these years later.