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Throwback Thursday: How the world met Montreal

Expo 67 was Montreal’s debut as a world-class metropolis, and was easily one of Canada’s brightest moments on the world stage in its then 100-year history.
  • Feb 03, 2016
  • 458 words
  • 2 minutes
A huge wooden hexagonal pavilion rises above one of the many sculptures set up on the grounds of Montreal's Expo 67 Expand Image

For Montreal’s baby-boomers, Expo ’67 was the event of their lives (at least until the 1976 Olympics). My parents still have their Expo passports and remember riding the monorail around Ile-Ste.-Helen and Ile-Notre-Dame. Expo was Montreal’s debut as a world-class metropolis, and was easily one of Canada’s brightest moments on the world stage in its then 100-year history.

The Canadian Geographical Journal covered the seven-month event in a series of features written to bring those readers who couldn’t be there an idea of what it was like. Now, 49 years later, they’re doing the same thing for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time among the grass-covered skeletons of Expo ’67’s 90 pavilions, but was born decades too late to actually experience them. To read about how they looked, how they felt, and what emotions they stirred is probably the closest I’ll get to understanding just how major an event Expo ’67 was.

“From a distance it looks rather like an oriental pagoda, a geometric, cone-shaped fretwork exuding that tonal warmth that only an all-wood construction can possesses,” writes Fred Bruemmer in his tour of the Man in the Community pavilion, which you can read here.

As he guides the reader through the pavilion, Bruemmer, who was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1983 for his writing and nature photography, tells of how man progressed from troglodyte to urbanite and how our future is in super-cities, and he makes some interesting predictions along the way.

“Already 60 per cent of all Canadians live in urban centres. By 2000, only 33 years from now, more than 36 million Canadians, over 85 per cent of our then population will live in urban centres. Most of them will be concentrated in the big cities. The future then, it seems, is the super city.”

I’m not sure where Bruemmer got his numbers, but they didn’t age as well as his prose. In Bruemmer’s hypothetical year 2000 there would be about 42 million Canadians and 85 per cent would live in cities. In reality, by the time 2000 rolled around there were, according to Statistics Canada, about 30 million Canadians, and about 80 per cent lived in cities.

Regardless, Bruemmer’s account is a fascinating glimpse of Canada as a leader in art, science and philosophy. For someone who grew up with stories of Expo and played in its relics, the chance to peak over the shoulder of a writer and photographer of Bruemmer’s caliber is as close as I’ve felt to what The Montreal Star described then as “the most staggering Canadian achievement since this vast land was finally linked by a transcontinental railway.”


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