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17 Things You Need To Know About The Largest Event In Montreal History

Few moments in Montreal's history are remembered quite as fondly, and inaccurately, as Expo 67. Take any twenty-something Montrealer, for example.

Even though we weren't born anytime close to Expo 67, millennial Montrealers have this vague idea of what occurred at the world's fair. Yes, we may understand the overarching importance of the event from a historical standpoint, but we have next to no clue what actually happened at Expo 67.

Essentially, the memory remains while the minute details have been lost to the past. But not entirely.

Scouring the world wide web for some of the strangest bits of Expo 67 (a particular thanks to Expo Lounge, the perfect site for any Expo 67 fanatics, as I'm slowly becoming), it was quite the experience to learn about some of the stranger goings-on of the momentous Montreal event.

See for yourself below.

Expo By The Numbers

To give you a sense of the grandeur that was Expo 67, here's a rundown of some of very interesting figures concerning the infamous World's Fair.

  • Cost: $1,000,000,000
  • Participating Nations: 62
  • Total Attendance: 50,306,648
  • Area: 900 acres
  • Movies shown: 5, 000+
  • Ticket costs: $2.50/day (adults), $1.25/day (children)
  • Opening Times: 9:30am to 10pm
  • Opening Date: April 27, 1967
  • Closing Date: October 29, 1967

The Symbol For The Expo Is Based On Ancient Religions

Designed by Julien Hébert, the symbol for Expo 67 (a vertical line with two outstretched "arms" on both side) is meant to represent to men unified in a common goal. A variety of sources cite Hébert's inspiration as "ancient symbols used to represent man," though none seem to know exactly which symbol.

Based purely on similarity, it's probable that the Expo 67 symbol is largely based on the runic symbol "Algiz" as the two bear a striking resemblance. Algiz's original meaning is up for debate, but it came to be known as the "life rune" and is quite similar with some representations of the world tree yggdrasil, which directly influenced the "peace" symbol.

It's not hard to notice that the peace sign has the same symbol as the Expo's symbolic representation of man, albeit inverted. With all that in mind, it's pretty safe to assume the Expo's symbol has its roots in some ancient pagan belief systems.

La Ronde Closed at 2:30am

While the official Expo site closed every night at about 10pm, La Ronde stayed open far later, closing at 2:30am. I kind of wish this tradition kept on going, because late night roller coaster rides just seems so right.

There Was A Beer Garden...With A Children's Area

50 members of the Brewers Association of Canada joined forced to create an entire beer garden complex, offering a selection of 67 beers and a variety of eclectic cuisines created with beer, all served in the 400-seat restaurant in the beer barrel-shaped pavilion.

That all sounds amazing, but what gets weird is that there was an area devoted to children, inside the beer garden area. A 200-seat puppet theatre was housed in the kids zone, with regular shows throughout the day, which wouldn't seem weird if the children's parents weren't a few steps away getting properly buzzed off beer.

If things were still like this, I might actually entertain the idea of having kids.

There Are Three Different "Official" Theme Songs

When Stéphane Venne won the public Expo theme song contest for "Un jour, un jour" he was undoubetly happy. Unfortunately, Expo organizers weren't quite so pleased, since Venne's song didn't directly mention Montreal nor Expo 67 itself, and so they took matters into their own hands.

The Expo Corporation essentially took Venne's song, added in an intro and outro that included both Montreal and Expo 67, and got the popular Quebecois singer Michèle Richard to record the track. A Radio-Canada broadcast was supposed to unveil the song, and the plan was to have this version substitute the original.

Venne caught wind of the plan, however, and with the help of singer Donald Lautrec and his manager, was able to record the original track and get copies out to stores right after the Radio-Canada broadcast.

The result was two "official" Expo 67 songs, one performed Michèle Richard (with the added intro/outro) and the other by Donald Lautrec.

But in the end, another song became much more closely associated with Expo 67, at least to Canadians at-large. Even now, most believe "Canada" by Bobby Gimby is the official Expo 67 song.

Toronto Was Supposed To Have The Expo

Before Montreal got the offer to play host to the World Exposition, Toronto got the offer. Fortunately, the City of Toronto declined, which was a good thing, because we all know they wouldn't have done half as good of a job.

There Were "Men In Yellow" Patrolling The Streets Of Montreal

With no relation to the Men in Black, the Men In Yellow were the vibrantly garbed team tasked with ensuring the streets of Montreal were clean. Between March and December, the Men in Yellow could be seen on their garbage-collecting tricycles picking up all kinds of litter around the city, always wearing a fully yellow get-up, of course.

Montreal Was The Second Choice For Expo 67

After Toronto rejected the bid to host the World Exposition, another city needed to be chosen, and there were three countries in the running when the International Exhibitions Bureau convened in Paris: Austria, Canada, and the USSR

Austria pulled out of the race early on, but the USSR actually won the vote on May 5th, 1960. Many believe the 50th anniversary of the Communist regime (which would have occurred in 1967) was the main reason the USSR got the bid, although it didn't matter much in the end, because the high cost to put on the Expo was deemed to costly for Moscow, and so the USSR withdrew their bid.

Canada then re-applied for the selection, and you know the rest.

Anglophone Newspapers Didn't Like The Name "Expo 67"

When the World's Fair that would become known as Expo 67 was in its initial planning stages, a major issue arose: the name itself.

Officially, Expo 67 should have been known as "The 1967 Universal and International Exhibition in Montréal," which was (understandably) deemed a bit too wordy.

Organizers also knew that they couldn't call the event a "Fair," mainly because the New York World's Fair was still going (1964-65), and for the fact that Expo 67 technically wasn't a fair, it was more of a global event under a specific theme.

Inspired by the song "La p'tite dame de l'Expo," Montreal's mayor Jean Drapeau actually came up with the title of Expo 67, which everyone liked instantly, except the Anglophone media. Apparently the Montreal Gazette and the now-defunct Montreal Star wanted the event to be called "Montreal's World Fair," though they eventually lost the name-battle.

A Queen, An Emperor, A President, and A Jazz Star All Came to Expo 67

A seriously large amount of celebrities and heads of state attended Expo 67, including Queen Elizabeth II, Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy, emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, Thelonius Monk, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, to name a few.

Ed Sullivan even held live broadcasts at Expo 67, on May 7th and 21st, with The Supremes being one of the performing guests.

The Pavilions That Never Were

A total of 90 pavilions were built for Expo 67, though there were plenty that never saw the light of day. Bruno Paul Stenson, M.A., in his feature on Expo 67 outlines the pavilions that never were, and the reasons why each one never got off the ground. Check out Stenson's article here, and find a brief rundown below:

  • Paris-Montréal Tower
  • The World Wildlife Federation Pavilion
  • Guatemala's pavilion (planned to be a full 10, 000 sq/ft)
  • Argentina's pavilion (planned to be 25,594 sq/ft)
  • Costa Rica's pavilion (planned to be 9, 500 sq/ft)
  • The Plaza de las Americas (which would have featured Central and South American countries)
  • Common Wealth Place (for British Commonwealth nations, though most already had their own pavilion so the project was scrapped)
  • Malaysia's pavilion (planned to be 19, 983 sq/ft)
  • Ireland's pavilion (planned to be 9, 000 sq/ft)
  • The Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, and Simmons corporate pavilions

An Entire Island Was Made For The Event

Before Expo 67, Ile Sainte-Hélène was far smaller, and Ile Notre-Dame straight up didn't exist. How is this even possible? Well, Expo 67 organizers got pretty creative.

Realizing that the existing Ile Sainte-Hélène wouldn't be large enough to house the 850 pavilions and buildings that would make up Expo 67, and there was next to no space in the core of Montreal, the decision was made to expand the off-shoot island.

Using 28, 000, 000 tons of earth that was being excavated out from under the ground for the city's metro network, Ile Sainte-Hélène was expanded and Ile Notre-Dame was built from the ground up, literally.

Expo 67 Didn't Actually Make Any Money

Going into the project, Expo organizers knew that they would have a monetary deficit once the year-long world's fair was over. But, much to everyone's surprise, Expo 67 didn't cost as much as everyone thought.

By the Expo's end, the entire operation costed $431,904,683 and $221,239,872 in funds were gained, making for a smaller-than-expected deficit of $210,664,811.

The Biosphere Used To Be The American Pavilion

One of the most popular sites of the Expo, with over 5 million visits throughout the entirety of event, the building now known as the Biosphere was originally the American pavilion.

Designed by Buckminster Fuller, who described the 20 story geodesic dome as his "Taj Mahal," the American pavilion had an entire six levels of exhibits, all of which fell under the theme of "Creative America." The range of topics was quite wide, with everything from Elvis to the Apollo Space Capsule included.

As many may know, the American pavilion caught fire in 1976, with the outer acrylic membrane of the dome catching fire. It wasn't until 1995 did the building re-open, becoming the now-iconic Biosphere.

The US & Soviet Union Had A Pavilion Battle

Naturally, two of the largest pavilions at Expo 67 would go to the superpowers of the time, namely the US and the Soviet Union. Both constructed wondrous displays in order to attract the most visitors.

But try as America would with their metallic sphere and "Creative America" theme, the Soviet Union would prove the more popular, with a total of 13 million visitors. Maybe the fact that the Soviet state was celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1967 helped them a bit.

"Everything in the Name of Man, for the Benefit of Man" was the theme of the Soviet Union's pavilion, which featured an entire space exhibit, dubbed the Cosmos Hall, an exhibit devoted to life in the USSR, an arts and culture exhibit, a 600-seat theater that showcased a wide variety of Soviet movies, and even a cafe/snack bar serving a variety of dishes native to republics of the Soviet Union.

There Were Sexy Hostesses Showing Everyone Around

250 women from 60 different nations were tasked with playing the role of "hostess" at Expo 67, with a mandatory uniform that boasted mini skirts (some so short they were legitimately distracting journalists, but not by today's standards) and a trendy little hat.

Now, the hostesses weren't just eye candy, as a majority spoke an array of languages (in order to help guests from varying nations) and all received a full two weeks of training. Some courses even included "grooming and protocol," which sounds like "how to look pretty and deal with crude men."

There were, however, 30 male guides also on-site, but no one seems to remember them.

Protesters Invaded Expo 67, And Weren't Turned Away

When a group of Anti-Vietnam protesters protesters sneaked into the Expo 67 grounds, and headed straight for the American pavilion, they didn't get the reaction they expected. Instead of being forcefully turned away from the Expo's grounds, they were warmly met by security officials, being offered seats and even cokes.

Described as a "near ugly international incident" by CBC (with the broadcaster also referring to the protesters as "peace-nicks") the warm reaction to the demonstration is probably because the Montreal didn't want to get any bad international press, as one protester pointed out. In all honesty, tearing the protesters from the Expo seems more like the Montreal police's style, so I agree with the protester's hypothesis.

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