Back in time: Montreal invited world to visit international exposition

Montreal was celebrating its 325th birthday, and invited the world to help celebrate by hosting Expo
The International and Universal Exposition — Expo 67 for short — brought more than 50 million visitors to Montreal in 1967 for exhibits displayed by more than 60 nations. The United States showed off inside a 20-story,
The International and Universal Exposition — Expo 67 for short — brought more than 50 million visitors to Montreal in 1967 for exhibits displayed by more than 60 nations. The United States showed off inside a 20-story,

Montreal was celebrating its 325th birthday, and invited the world to help celebrate. That was the basic idea behind Expo 67.

The International and Universal Exposition, which officially opened to the public on Friday, April 28, 1967, was one of the big deals of the 1960s. It was really two parties, because Canada used the gathering to celebrate its centennial as a confederation.

More than 60 nations and 80 industrial and private exhibitors brought people and paraphernalia to Expo, held on island sites in the St. Lawrence River. The theme was “Man and His World” and culture was everywhere; space capsules, new cars, boats and airplanes were part of the vision. So was art and entertainment, as galleries, opera, ballet and theatre companies, orchestras and jazz groups all had places on assorted stages.

There were a lot of visitors. More than 300,000 toured attractions the first day. By the time Expo closed in late October, more than 50 million would pay admission for the adventure up north.

Early look

Reporter Peg Churchill and photographer Ed Schultz got sneak previews. The team from the Schenectady Gazette joined hundreds of other media representatives for advance looks shortly before the fair opened.

Churchill liked the air of excitement and vitality surrounding Expo, the bold and creative strokes involved in architecture.

“Above all, Expo 67 holds the promise of fun; of enjoyment enough to make worthwhile the more than four-hour drive to Montreal, the expense of such a trip (Montreal prices are comparable to New York City) and the tired feet which are an unavoidable result of world’s fair exploration,” Churchill wrote.

She also said people would compared the Canadian super circus to New York’s World’s Fair, which had been held in 1964. Expo, she added was not overshadowed by the ’64 exhibits of industrial giants. National pavilions were the stars in Montreal.

“Of these,” Churchill wrote, “it seems certain that the big attractions will be those of Canada, the United States, Soviet Union, France, Britain.”

People would think they were walking into a city from the future. Architectural marvels included the 20-story geodesic dome that housed American collections. The Soviet headquarters was a massive glass-walled building with a sweeping roof. The French decided to build multiple levels inside their pavilion, and they dressed it up with special effects.

“The core of the building is strung with a web of cables on which is presented a six-minute symphony of sound and light,” Churchill wrote. “The stridently modern music is by Iannis Xenakis, the 1,200 flashing lights by a well-programmed computer, and the effect breathtaking.”

Kids making the trip through the Adirondacks from the Capital Region didn’t have to dread a long day with the arts. The “La Ronde” amusement park was another part of the Expo scene, and rides and booth remained open until 2:30 a.m., long after Expo closed its national halls at 10 p.m.

Television jumped on the bandwagon, and Expo received hour-long commercials courtesy of CBS. The network’s popular “Ed Sullivan Show” broadcast live from the fairgrounds on both May 7 and May 21. Ed’s guests were an international mix, with performances by America’s Supremes, Britain’s Petula Clark and Australia’s Seekers.

When Expo 67 closed on Oct. 29, 1967, people could still visit. The site’s standing collection of international pavilions became known as “Man and His World.” But attendance declined, and buildings fell into disrepair. In 1976, a fire destroyed the acrylic outer skin of the celebrated geodesic dome.

Historians said the crumbling site began to resemble ruins of a futuristic city. Others noticed: In the late 1970s, scenes for Robert Altman’s post-apocalyptic film “Quintet” were shot on the former Expo grounds. So was “Greetings from Earth” a 1979 episode of television’s original “Battlestar Galactica,” which portrayed the once-bustling complex as a city ruined by biological attack.

The popular vacation destination for 1967 is still popular today, but not for as many people. The grounds are part of a municipal park.

Two famous buildings remain. The refurbished geodesic dome now is used as an environmental sciences museum called the Biosphere. And the Habitat 67 housing complex is still occupied.

Categories: Life and Arts

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