Fifty years ago this week , Thursday, April 27, 1967 to be precise, was the opening day of Montreal’s EXPO 67 World’s Fair. It was a General Exposition of the first category as decreed by the Bureau International des Expositions (the first fair of this magnitude ever to be held in North America). The theme was Man and His World; the fair was open until October 29th and welcomed over 50 million visitors from across Canada and around the world. The city was on top of the world.
Ah nostalgia! That word, the etymology of which is often said to come from the Greek for “a painful yearning to return home” is just about all that remains today of EXPO. However I imagine other Montrealers have felt the pang of pride when overhearing tourists marvelling at Moshe Safdie‘s Habitat 67 which, along with Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome are among the few remaining EXPO buildings. I was seven-years old in the summer of 1967 and spent many days with various family members visiting the numerous pavilions and soaking up the international environment. A half-century later, when I look back, I do so through the eyes of a child.
Halcyon, salad, glory, or just plain ‘good old’, those days are indelibly etched in my memory. I suspect some of the warm fuzzy feelings of that year’s ‘Summer of Love’ in the United States made the trek north with the many visitors to the fair. It was Montreal at its best. Will new generations of Canadians and Montrealers ever see anything the likes of those days? I fear not.
I cannot deny that I am out-of-step with what appears to be the general consensus of my fellow citizens today. Concerns about costs, noise, corruption, you name it, have exceeded our once prevailing desire to be host to the world. The late Jean Drapeau, who as mayor of Montreal was responsible for both EXPO 67 and the 76 Summer Olympics, planted the roots as he set out to make Montreal the “first city of the 21st century”. Alas financial and political insecurities during the eighties and nineties scuppered the mayor’s dream forever.
As Canada marks its sesquicentennial this year, which sure does not roll off the tongue like centennial (I can’t imagine there will be too many Sesquicentennial High Schools or Sesquicentennial Bridges named), and Montreal celebrates its 350th anniversary I cannot help but feel saddened that the events planned are not on par with EXPO 67. With our current state of affairs, ranging from an ageing infrastructure to gentrification concerns (investment in neighbourhoods was once seen as a positive thing, if broken shop windows and graffiti are any indication the opposite is now true), projects of world-class proportions have been relegated to mere memories for most of us. That is a pity, but thankfully many of us of a certain age can think back to those days with pride and reflect on what grand memories they are.