Published in The Suburban, April 25, 2007.
I was just twenty years old when Expo’ 67 threw open the doors to its legion of thematic, national, and corporate pavilions to the general public. So not only was I relatively young for a cultural and gastronomic enterprise of that magnitude, I had also not profited, unlike many Montrealers, from the numerous tours of the site while it was under construction. In short, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I ventured, along with two friends, to that fairy-tale location on the opening day of April 28, 1967.
Despite the forty years which have passed since that memorable occasion, I recollect the evening as yesterday, beginning with the three us of meeting one another on the southbound platform of the Mont Royal Metro Station, as we had wisely decided not to run the risk of taking an automobile there on that inaugural day.
It should be remembered that the whole Montreal Metro network was itself barely six months old at the time of the beginning of the 1967 World’s Fair and, therefore, I was as much intrigued by my first visit to that particular subway station as anything else. Regardless, however, after a quick glance around and about the platform, we took the first in-coming train to Berri – de Montigny (as the hub station was then called), alighted, and sought out the labyrinth of corridors which would lead to the newly-opened Line Four, then under the River St. Lawrence, and on to Man and His World.
After all these years of on and off deliberation, it’s still difficult for me to describe my feelings and impressions as I exited the St. Helen’s Island Metro station and came face to face for the first time with the splendour of Expo’67. It was a late Friday afternoon and, as I recall, quite mild for the end of April. There was no precipitation that wonderful day, nor that entire opening weekend. The sun was just beginning to initiate its majestic descent towards the horizon and its eventual disappearance behind Mount Royal. It was the last day of Standard Time, as in those days Daylight Savings Time came into effect the last Saturday of April.
Certainly I was staggered by the enormity of the site and how replete with visitors it was. As a matter of fact, organizers later revealed that some 315,000 people showed up at Terre des Hommes (as the event was known in French) that initial day – three times more than had been expected. In truth, the crowds that Friday morning were so dense that the doors to the exposition (which were supposed to have been activated only at 9:30 A.M.) were thrown open some 45 minutes earlier!
Once admitted, my sidekicks and I made a quick visit of the two principal islands. We rubbernecked and gawked at everything we saw, as the setting was simply magnificent. Before us was to be found an avant-garde statement of what was to come in the last third of the twentieth century, a fantasy land of overhead minirails and dreamy, illuminated canals coupled with the most modern and revolutionary of architectural concepts of the period. As yesterday!
During that first of the 26 weeks of exposition to come, there were still some workers present (mostly landscapers) but, for all intents and purposes, the job was done and the site ready to receive the millions of visitors who were anticipated that summer.
My companions and I didn’t stay long that temperate and celebrated evening; we did after all have the entire summer to scrutinize the locale. Instead, we quickly departed for the adjacent amusement park – styled La Ronde- whose construction had been completed just in time for the opening of the World’s Fair. There we experienced the much-heralded ride, The Gyrotron, and a few others of equally remarkable calibre. Later, we partook in the salient and driving night-life of the now renowned recreation centre, with all its international flair: The Bavarian Biergarten, The English Pub, Fort Edmonton-Pioneerland, The Youth Pavilion, to mention but a few.
It goes without saying that I returned many times to Expo’67 that “Summer of Love.” Once there, I joined, with so many others, the lengthy queues outside the more popular pavilions that graced those starry-eyed islands in the middle of the mighty St. Lawrence. While all of them were worth the wait, perhaps none was as much as the Telephone Pavilion with its 360 degree evocative rendition of the film “Canada 67.”
Those were indeed “Magic Moments” and, even though months earlier I had fathomed that my childish delight in that Centennial dream would never end, autumn arrived with all its prophesying colours. As I sadly came to the brusque realization that the event was swiftly winding down, I was inevitably roused with the haunting intuition that this was truly a once in a lifetime occurrence – a veritable happening. About that, I have never changed my mind – and neither did my two friends.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Robert N. Wilkins, a recently-retired Montreal area high school teacher, is a regular contributor to the quarterly of the Quebec Family History Society, an anglophone genealogical association based in Pointe Claire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org