Expo 67 happened 45 years ago; could we do it again?

Though of poor quality, this is still an exceptional photograph of Expo 67, specifically Place des Nations – fully operational as it was intended. You’ll notice there doesn’t seem to be anything going on in the square, and yet people fill the benches and bleachers rising around. All sorts of activity is happening here, at this crucial transit point, as the fair ground expand out in all directions, a festival of truly epic proportions.

Fifty million people came to visit Montreal and see Expo during the Summer of Love. It was an outstanding achievement, as it was the raison-d’etre for a wide variety of city, government and corporate development projects, all coming together in time for opening day. The project, despite delays, was completed on time and on budget. After six months, the fair had paid itself off in admissions and concession sales. What Expo 67 did for international consumer confidence in Montréal, Québec and Canada is incalculable, though it certainly permitted Montréal enough credo to survive armed insurrections, separatism, terrorism and two referendums on national sovereignty in which Montreal was the primary battleground. Expo bought us confidence and an internationally recognized (and enduring) image of modernism, stability and innovation. We haven’t exhausted that confidence yet, though we would be wise to out-do ourselves as quickly as possible. The amount of free publicity for the city the fair generated made subsequent tourism marketing a synch, not to mention the fact that the facilities were operational for several years afterwards as a semi-permanent exhibit, encouraging repeat visitors and locals. Today, though almost all the original pavilions have been torn down and the grounds re-developed into a gorgeous park, we as citizens still retain a massive fair-ground, and we use it every year to our advantage and shared enjoyment.

Expo’s legacy is that it is always preferential for a large city to distinguish itself from other large cities by demonstrating it’s importance in a globally and culturally significant manner. This is precisely what Expo did for our city inasmuch as our province and country. I would argue that it benefitted Montréal perhaps the most given that it resulted in net increases to the common standard of living. We all got to benefit from the Métro, inasmuch as the numerous remaining attractions at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Moreover, ask yourself if we would have had an Olympics without Expo, or whether we would have bothered to protect Old Montréal if not for the reaction it produced in tourists. Thinking big allowed us to secure investment for many years, and it provided new opportunities for growth and development. It kept people employed and made ourselves available to host the world – what power we once had, and all because we dared to dream.

Place des Nations – Overgrown and Underused, 2007