50 Years of Expo 67

Expo 67 poster depicting a smiling hostess holding a camera next to her face and standing in front of the Canadian pavilion. The words, “Rendez-vous à Montréal” are written at the top of the poster.039: 50 Years of Expo 67
September 7, 2017

Listen Now [56.6 MB, length: 1:01:13]

The 1967 Universal and International Exhibition, better known as Expo 67, was the highlight of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It was held in Montréal from April to October 1967, and was considered the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has maintained the majority of the Expo 67 records for the last 40 years. In this episode, we talk with Margaret Dixon, senior project archivist at LAC, about the legacy of Expo and the work that has gone into archiving these documents.

Subscribe with RSS, iTunes or Google Play to automatically receive new episodes.

Related Links

Email questions and feedback to: bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Podcast Transcript

50 Years of Expo 67

Geneviève Morin (GM): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I'm your host, Geneviève Morin. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.

The 1967 Universal and International Exhibition, better known as Expo 67, was the highlight of Canada's centennial celebrations. It was held in Montréal from April to October 1967, and was considered the most successful world's fair of the 20th century. Expo 67 left a mark on the city of Montréal, the province of Québec, and Canada as a whole, giving citizens a sense of pride in shared achievement and in the international recognition of the event's success.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has held the majority of the Expo 67 records for the past 40 years. There are architectural drawings, photographs, textual and promotional material, and much more. For the past few years, LAC has been working hard to make these items available to the public, and to preserve them for future generations. This has been no easy task.

Margaret Dixon, senior project archivist at LAC, will talk to us about the legacy of Expo, and the work that has gone into archiving these documents.

[Music]

GM: French-Canadian songwriter and composer Stéphane Venne composed Expo 67's theme song, “Hey Friend, Say Friend.” Out of the over 2,200 songs submitted in an international competition, his composition was the one chosen. The song is sung by Michèle Richard.

Hi Margaret, thanks for joining us today.

Margaret Dixon (MD): Hi Geneviève, it's so good to be here.

GM: Let's start off broad, and I'm going to ask you to tell us, what was Expo 67?

MD: Well, because you know I was there …

[Both women laugh]

MD: It was—well, many people have described it differently. But I think when they say it was the place to be, it certainly was the place to be. I mean, it was not just a crowning achievement for Canada, but also for the city of Montréal and the province of Quebec. I mean, three levels of government worked together to pull this off in a situation where Canada didn't have much time to go through the planning and the construction and the implementation, and they did it.

So, you know, to have this accomplishment and then to have the world at your doorstep—especially for a country and a province that wouldn't necessarily be aware of the international scene—to have this at your doorstep was amazing. And everybody wanted to be there. And so when you were there, it was an excitement. You didn't even have to go into the pavilions. You just walked around. You saw all the elements of design and just the feeling and the flare. It was the place to be.

GM: So what would typically be shown at an exhibition?

MD: Well, typically—it's interesting because exhibitions historically have been trade fairs where countries have shown their wares and have promoted their economy and used it as a place to sell themselves, right? In the years previous to Expo, they started to change, and there was a concerted effort, I think, on the planners of Expo 67 to make it into more of a socially conscious kind of venue. Man and His Environment. Man and His World. And how does man view society, and how do we use technology and use the different resources that are available to us to solve society's ills? And can we do this peacefully together?

So the whole idea of the world coming together and looking at this theme and trying to work together. And maybe we could achieve peace—and especially that period where we're talking still about the Cold War. And you know you have Russia and you have the U.S.A., both prominently having pavilions and participation at Expo. But there is still a cold war going on. But we can still somewhat be together, and we can maybe show our different approaches or our different perspectives on society and how we might approach solving problems.

GM: You mention that it was based originally on the intent of promoting countries and sort of in the spirit of a trade fair, but I think that Expo still had a bit of that element to it where every pavilion—every country had a pavilion to showcase its technological advances, its artistic prowess. It was the best of every country.

MD: Oh, absolutely. And yes, I don't think you can certainly say that Expo didn't have that—inherit some of those elements. I think the boundaries were being pushed beyond that. And in this case it was, what is the impact of design on our life? What is the quality of our life? How can our life be better, and how can we do that through design and innovation? And I think you had Man and His Health, Man and His World, Man and the Ocean, Man and the Environment—these were part of the themes of Man and His World. And so there were elements of course in the theme pavilions, but some of those other elements of innovation and pushing the cultural expressions were also evident, especially in the films and in the products, I mean, even the construction of the pavilions using different construction methods and materials in a different way. And everything was thoughtful in terms of design and in a sense a cohesion of design, but yet also different in the sense that—let's push all the boundaries out.

GM: So you're mentioning pavilions. So there were specific pavilions for countries, but there were also thematic pavilions?

MD: We had three different kinds of pavilions...

GM: At Expo, there were three different types of pavilions. The national pavilions, of which there were over 60, and these included all the participating countries, plus some provinces and American states. There were also the privately sponsored pavilions, which included companies like Air Canada, Bell, Kodak, Canadian National Railway and Alcan. Then we had the theme pavilions with examples like Man the Explorer, Man the Producer, and Man the Provider. Also, there was the amusement park La Ronde, plus Habitat 67, a novel construction project related to man's housing needs.

MD: I think that if you'd looked at and tried to peel back the layers of what was Expo, obviously the pavilions and the specific site areas come to mind. But even walking there, you had all your design elements of the furniture—one of the most architecturally significant pieces—if you want to look at it as a piece, or innovative elements—of Expo was the telephone booths because of the use of plastic, you know, and being in a dome situation. So the garbage cans, the signage, the signage of the men's and women's washrooms—that was designed for Expo. So that international signage, which we still take for granted, that originated there.

So you had your monorail, and you had your pathways and the whole experience. And you had three islands that had been augmented or created as the basis for the construction for the site.

GM: One of those islands built for Expo was Île Notre-Dame. Created in only 10 months, it used some of the 15 million tons of rock from the construction of the Montréal metro system.

MD: So I mean, there was much more than just the buildings or the entertainment. It was just this magnificent project which was very ambitious. It all came together.

GM: After Expo ended in October 1967, the site and almost all the pavilions remained. This became the exhibition called Man and His World. It was open during the summer months, right up until 1984, when it was closed permanently.

MD: And then there were dignitaries, people wanted to come and visit. And you had Princess Grace Kelly, you had Jackie Kennedy, you had Queen Elizabeth and her husband, and you had …

GM: Ed Sullivan came out?

MD: Ed Sullivan did a couple of shows.

GM: And a bunch of American actors came.

MD: Absolutely. Yes, and you had iconic entertainers that came. So I mean it was—all that excitement was not just the infrastructure but the fact that people came, and they intermixed, and they got to share their experiences.

GM: Margaret was right when she said that in 1967, Expo was the place to be. That summer, many notable entertainers performed there. Singers and bands of note included Dave Brubeck, Bing Crosby, the Grateful Dead, Sarah Vaughn and Luciano Pavarotti.

MD: And then you had the hostesses. And you had these beautiful women, who were very intelligent, who were guiding you through the site and guiding you through the pavilions and promoting Expo. They went to Macy's, they went abroad, they sold—they were a very big part of the promotional part—they weren't just the people handing out pamphlets at Expo. They were being ambassadors for Expo itself, and of course they reflected the fashion of the time. And you know because we saw it ourselves. We saw some of the advertisements for hostesses and hosts, but emphasis being on the hostesses. We also saw drawings and pictures of their uniforms. And we also heard about the controversy, about the Mary Quant miniskirt at the U.K. pavilion, and how once that was seen, everybody raised their skirts. All the hostesses raised their skirts.

GM: They went from the knee to halfway up the leg.

MD: Well, not quite halfway up the leg. I would say maybe from the knee to maybe two or three inches up the leg.

GM: So, the Mary Quant controversy that Margaret mentions goes like this:

The hostesses at the U.K. pavilion were wearing their red, white and blue skirts, created by Welsh fashion designer and inventor of the miniskirt, Mary Quant. They were short! Apparently, hostesses from other pavilions, not wanting to be left out, started raising their skirts as well.

Throughout this episode, LAC employees will be sharing some of their personal experiences at Expo 67. First up, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Guy Berthiaume.

Guy  Berthiaume (GB): Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada. I was 16 years old during Expo.

First of all, for me, Expo is certainly a physical place, but it's primarily an emotional place. It's an intellectual place, it's a place where I experienced what it was like to be a 16-year-old boy in 1967. So I have memories of my emotions that are more specific than what I actually saw there. I think I was there every day that summer, since I was too young to have a summer job. And in the end, it's there that I became, I don't know if it was a young adult or an old teenager, but in any case, that's where I was introduced to an extraordinary world. Of course, that was because of all the pavilions, but it was also an introduction to counterculture. Remember that at that time, Robert Charlebois was singing almost every week at the Youth Pavilion, with only an acoustic guitar before he went electric. It was a time when Claude Dubois was also singing there almost every week, so there was such an incredible buzz.

Not only because it was Expo, but also because it was a time when all around the world, people were open to all kinds of new realities. All the art movements experienced an unparalleled explosion at that time, and that moment will never come back because it was a time of innocence, of means: there was a lot of money to do things. Imagine making an island right in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Today, that would be completely impossible from an environmental standpoint, though it would still be possible with all of our means and resources. But that was a time when everything was possible, people didn't doubt themselves. There was full employment because women weren't on the job market. We won't go back to that society, and we won't try to either, but no one doubted the future. No one. At 16, I never doubted that I would find a job, I never had that kind of hesitation. It was really a time that we will never get back. And from a personal standpoint, being 16 again, that's another moment that no one gets back. For me, it was like the perfect combination: you had to be 16 in '67, and I was 16, so it was the perfect combination to be happy and have a fabulous summer.

GM: Did you find that Montréal changed after Expo 67? Did it change Quebec and Canada as well?

GB: As far I can tell, it was an extraordinary turning point for Montréal and Quebec, a radical one, because they were suddenly completely open to all the cultures of the world. Remember that the Soviet Union and the United States were both there at the same time. We were open to all those realities. Quebec society was still—of course, we had experienced the Quiet Revolution, but it was still very shy in terms of opening up to the world, even as far as cuisine was concerned. Montréal was not the same after Expo; chefs came, chefs stayed. We were introduced to new cuisines, like Swiss cuisine, the cuisine of African countries, and of course Asian cuisine. So we went from having a few Chinese restaurants, which were about as exotic as it got, and then three or four Da Giovanni's, and afterwards Montréal became a fine dining capital. In that sense, but also in the sense of opening up to the world.

It's not unique to my generation, but my parents' generation and as far back as our grandparents, they had a fabulous introduction to other peoples. They could see people from Cuba [laughs], which was impossible at that time, see people from India, see people from Thailand; it's like I said, opening up to the world to a degree that we have never surpassed, and it was really like a fabulous breath of fresh air—at least in the region that I know. For Canada as a whole, I can't tell you. I also felt this a bit when Expo was in Vancouver, but I don't really know how people felt in '67 in the rest of Canada.

GM: When a young man of 16 passes through the turnstiles, what's his first impression?

GB: At the time, my first impression was that I was seeing a great success come together. It was exactly the same thing for the Olympics in '76. Up to the day before the opening, people were saying, “It won't be ready, it will never end, there are strikes, there is construction, there are problems with construction sites.” So being able to go on the first day and see that it was working and that there were literally thousands of people pouring into the site, I was really shocked. I was surprised at the success, and I don't think even the Expo promoters had dreamt of such a success. I don't remember if there was double or triple the expected turnout, but it was like that: a lot of people, a lot of happy people. There was no aggressiveness; on the contrary, people got along well in the lines. It should be said that that age of innocence can't be recreated today. It was really, I'm telling you [laughs], today we can't imagine that type of atmosphere. We'll never get that moment back.

GM: Any other lasting memories?

GB: Although there was so much, I would say there was something that later became ordinary, but at the time it was completely new for me anyway, and for my friends and my group of friends, it was going to the Indian Pavilion, to see the first Indian musicians. Sure, the Beatles had been there briefly a few years earlier, but for us this was the first time we had experienced Indian music first-hand, with the sitar, tabla, etc., and those concerts that lasted for hours and hours and hours, the same piece of music because it was classical music but also improvised. So, yes, seeing it with my own eyes, participating in it in person for the first time, that was really something special.

GM: Now, time to delve into the Expo records here at LAC. But first, it's time for “Library and Archives Canada's word of the day.” Today's word is fonds.

Everyone has had a collection. A collection of stamps, a collection of comics, or maybe even a collection of rocks! But what is this talk about a fonds? A fonds, spelled f-o-n-d-s, is not unlike a collection in the sense that both consist of accumulations of documents. The difference between them lies in how they were accumulated. Collections are accumulated or intentionally grouped because they have something in common. A common owner, theme or a common type of object, like stamps. A fonds on the other hand is accumulated naturally, over the course of one's life or career without specific intent on the owner's or creator's part. For example, an author's fonds may contain family photographs, as well as correspondence with family and loved ones. It may also contain correspondence with publishing houses, fellow authors and literary agents, as well as photographs of book launches and award ceremonies. All this material makes up the author's fonds. It was created in the normal course of their personal life or career as an author. This same author could have had a personal stamp collection, completely unrelated to the normal course of their family life and career. If they were to donate that to LAC, it would make up a collection.

[Music]

GM: You're listening to the Expo 67 two-step. This song was written and performed by Canadian folk music icon Don Messer.

Can you tell us about the Expo 67 fonds at Library and Archives Canada?

MD: Yes, I think that when I look at the collection that we have at Library and Archives Canada, it is actually the Canadian World Exhibition Corporation, and we have their records—the official records of that corporation. And really, it documents the initial planning, the construction, the design, the implementation, the day-to-day operations—everything that went into making Expo happen from beginning to end.

So we have that official corporate record, which is a very different kind of record than what people might remember themselves. And so in documenting, we have the minutes of the executive. We have various reports, various studies. We have promotional materials. We have a considerable amount of textual materials, I would say about—let me see—about at least 124 metres of records, most of which are accessible, but we're still working on accessibility issues. We have cartographic—the architectural drawings—over 40,000 of those drawings. We have photographs, again a considerable amount—black-and-white and colour photographs, posters. There is some audiovisual.

So we have a fairly extensive collection of materials documenting the operations—the beginning, the initiation and the operations of the corporation that brought Expo into being.

GM: How did we come to acquire this material?

MD: Well, the corporation itself was enacted through federal legislation. And it was a—the corporation was based on a tripartite agreement between the federal government, the Province of Quebec and the City of Montréal. And the corporation did report through Parliament on an annual basis to the Minister of Trade and Commerce. These were ultimately government records. And we're Library and Archives Canada. We have the documentary heritage for Canada. That includes not just private sources but records of the Government of Canada. So it falls well within our mandate that we should have these records.

GM: Why does Library and Archives Canada go through the trouble of archiving these Expo documents?

MD: Well, why would they go through the trouble of archiving any archival or historic documents? I mean, this is part of our history. It illustrates the cultural and the social and just the dynamic time. And why wouldn't we want to document that?

GM: But it is a massive job. You were mentioning 40,000 architectural records.

MD: Yeah, and I think this is really interesting because when you look at it from a Government of Canada perspective, it's not a lot. But it is a lot. Recently talking to someone from the Archives of Ontario, and they were saying, well, when you say what your architectural drawings are for this one fonds, that's what we have in our entire collection, going across all of their fonds. And it's like, yeah but you know that's just small compared to what we might have in Public Works or Transport or any of the other departments, NRCan, where that is part of—drawings or architectural drawings are part of what they create and what they do.

So it is unique in the sense that there's such a diversity of specialized media materials. But in terms of the amount, it's not big in relation to other kinds of representations we have in our collection.

GM: You may have just heard Margaret mention “specialized media.” This is the term that LAC uses in referencing all archives that are non-textual. This includes photographs, art, cartography, architectural records, audiovisual material, stamps, and other items such as postcards, political buttons and pins.

Storage is certainly an issue for LAC. We asked Margaret how these documents in the Expo fonds are kept safe and secure.

MD: Oh, well [laughs]. That's interesting. How do we store it? Well, I think you should go back a step. And it's not just a question of how do we store it. How do we handle the documents? Because they might come to us in very different ways and in less-than-optimal ways. So for example, architectural drawings can be rolled up very tightly into rolls. Well, they have to be relaxed. So we have to have a space where we can relax these, and do it gently so that we're not harming the documents.

GM: Can you explain what “relax” means?

MD: Unrolling them and flattening them in a way that is not going to crease them or tear them or crack them, as the case may be. It may mean that we gently unroll it, or it may mean that we call upon our preservation colleagues to induce or to facilitate the relaxing with, maybe—they have other methods that we don't have. They're the specialists, and we have to know when to call them in to be able to help us with that preservation. So there's more than just storing. It's the handling, and then they have to be housed in a specific kind of container, folder or specifically made box—acid-free box or container.

GM: When items in the fonds are ready for storage, they are brought to LAC's main storage facility, the Preservation Centre, in Gatineau, Quebec. This state-of-the-art facility, built in 1997, provides collection storage areas with optimal environmental conditions. It also houses laboratories for preservation activities. There will be a whole episode of our podcast devoted to the Gatineau Preservation Centre, coming out in the fall. Stay tuned!

MD: That's where really the premium storage facility is for us.   And all of the architectural drawings that we have been refoldering into the larger, oversize folders—they're all going to be in the Gatineau Preservation Centre in specially designed drawers and supported in a way in which their long-term longevity is going to be ensured.

We also have photos. We have black-and-white photos, but we also had colour slides and photos. And they require a special kind of environment in order to exist, and they happen to have a cold storage facility within the Gatineau Preservation Centre.

And it's interesting because research demand has really pushed us and challenged us in terms of making this collection more accessible. And for example, with the colour photographs, they're currently in a cold storage facility—

GM: At minus 18 Celsius.

MD: Oh, very cold. Absolutely. And when you get the tour of Gatineau Preservation Centre, and they take you into that vault, you put the winter jackets on, right? And we all laugh, but it's for a good reason, because it helps to protect the emulsion of these photographs. So when a researcher wants to look at these photographs, they put in a request from Reference, and then it goes—the photographs are taken out, and gradually they're acclimatized to a normal, everyday environment. And then the researcher can look at it. So it's not a question of, you order something and it's going to come to you in five minutes or half-an-hour or a day. It's going to take a couple of days in order for the acclimatization.

So with this, we had a preservation concern that, you know you shouldn't be taking these photos back and forth all the time because that isn't really good for them. They should be in the vault, or they should not be in the vault, and we need to keep them in the vault. So we were able to digitize a fair amount of them. So now people don't need to order some of those photos. They can go into—do a search through our website, and they can click on the digital image or go into the database and query for the image. And voila, they have these beautiful photographs.

GM: The photos in the Expo 67 fonds consist of around 15,000 colour slides and over 30,000 black-and-white negatives. At this point, over 4,000 digital images are online and searchable on our website. Also, don't forget our Flickr gallery dedicated to this episode, where we've chosen about 70 amazing images to showcase. To access the Flickr page, look in the show notes on iTunes, or head over to the podcast page on LAC's website.

MD: And we had a stakeholder come to us and want to use some photographs, new fresh materials for their documentary. And that enabled us to be able to have the resources to be able to digitize some of these.

So researcher demand has been really important in terms of helping us to make our collections more accessible, not just for the Expo records but also for other areas—military, for example, is very popular. And other records that we have that Canadians are interested in. That interest, we respond to it. We want people to be able to access the documentation that they find important and relevant to their own lives. And an example of these photos, we have this beautiful facility—the Gatineau Preservation Centre—and we're able to care for these photos but we also have to balance the preservation needs against the access needs.

GM: So digitization comes to the rescue.

MD: It can be a good alternative, yes.

GM: Now, time for another Expo 67 memory with an LAC employee…

Normand Charbonneau (NB): Hello, I'm Normand Charbonneau. In 1967, I was 11 years old.

Our family lived in Saint-Basile-le-Grand on the South Shore of Montréal, and my parents saved for months to buy us Expo passports. It changed my life in many ways! The experience that I had as a young Montréaler—I lived in Saint-Basile-le-Grand, but I was born in Montréal and I'm a real city boy (no one is more of a Montréaler than me!)—it transformed Montréal, profoundly transformed people in my generation. Those who were lucky enough to have parents who were inspired by Expo, who saved up and forced us to go, because when you're 11, you may be more interested in playing softball than going to Expo every day of the year, all summer long, as I did.

I went to Expo every day that summer. At Expo, I discovered languages, I discovered faces that were different from mine, from those of my two sisters and my brother, and I discovered cultures through food. I ate perogies for the first time at Expo, I ate an anchovy pizza for the first time at Expo (I still dislike anchovies), I ate butter chicken for the first time at Expo. I met people in line; For those who weren't there, we stood in line for hours at Expo. We spent half our day lining up to get into the most popular pavilions.

Other things that have stayed with me were the whole series of canals, and there were the Floralies on Île Sainte-Hélène, on Man and His World afterwards. All those canals have become quite beautiful. If you go there in the summer to ride your bike, it's a magnificent place. The Quebec Pavilion, the French Pavilion that became the Casino. All these things changed us, but it was also the contact with others, anyone, everyone who came from everywhere, who made an effort to talk to us in French or in English, with whom we stood in line for hours, discovering cultures, discovering things that profoundly changed the young people who were there, the young 11-year-old boys like me who let themselves get carried away by the adventure of Expo, because it really was an adventure, Man and His World.

For me, I had friends at school in the years afterwards whose parents had been hosts or hostesses in the pavilions and then immigrated to Canada. And that profoundly changed the social fabric; we understood other people, we understood that this Gallic village, French Canada in the northeastern corner of North America, it's part of a world where there are many worlds. The universe is diverse, and there are people like us everywhere, but also nuances.

So, Expo, from '67 onwards, and the young Montréalers who grew up, who matured maybe (certainly in age), that has always stayed with us, but we were lucky to have participated in the vision of the creators, the organizers and our parents who spent time and money so we could travel with them the whole summer of 1967.

For those who know Montréal, on the Jacques Cartier Bridge there are two towers in the centre, above Île Sainte-Hélène, one that's closer to La Ronde and the other that's closer to the park. We came from the South Shore, Saint-Basile-le-Grand. After work, my father would pick us up on the bridge. It was rush hour, everyone was behind us wanting to pass, and some evenings, we waited on the other side. And it was something. Really, really fascinating. Anyway, it was really fascinating to me at the time, maybe it won't make you laugh, but it still makes me laugh. It was almost like a relay race at the Olympics; there were several families, there were no cellphones at the time, and we knew that mom or dad would come from Montréal by car, so we positioned ourselves a bit like waiting for the baton from the other runner, and our father, in my case it was “papa,” he pulled over and stopped, and we moved forward and got in the car as quickly as possible so we could finish crossing the bridge. Today, he'd get stopped by the police and there would be a complaint to youth protection services, I'm sure.

[Music]

GM: “Canada,” or “The Centennial Song,” was written by Canadian orchestra leader and trumpeter Bobby Gimby. Here it is, performed by the Young Canada Singers. The single was the most successful song in Canada in 1967, selling over 270,000 copies. It became the unofficial theme song for Expo 67 and has been recorded by over 30 different musicians!

As an archivist, how has the Expo fonds been important to you personally?

MD: Well, that's a very good question. You know, I think as an archivist—and I've been an archivist for a few years—that you get to pick—

[Geneviève laughs]

MD: Oh, you're laughing. You get to pick and choose. You know? You don't always get to do everything you want. It's like a kid in a candy store, right? I love being an archivist, and I work with some amazing records.

You know, you always find some gems in your collections. They're the records we have because we have deemed them to be historic. All have value, and all are worthy, but it's a question sometimes—how do you choose? And for me it's been a project—that's been an important aspect of it—it's been another learning experience because of the diversity of the materials in this collection. And the fact I could relate personally to the experience didn't hurt. You know?

And to see the absolute joy and amazement of people who once they see some of the records we have are just so enthralled. It's very satisfying to know that that living aspect of our history—people don't always find history to be exciting. They're not all archivists. But when somebody who doesn't have that kind of background all of a sudden can connect with an event or with the records, it's satisfying.

GM: It kind of makes our days' work worthwhile. [laughs]

MD: Yeah, it's not just for us anymore. We realize that it is for Canadians.

GM: Here's another LAC employee with an Expo 67 memory…

Elaine Goetz (EG): So my name is Elaine Goetz, and I am an employee of Library and Archives Canada. And I'm here to talk about my experience at Expo. I was six years old at that time and living in a radar base in New Brunswick in the south of what was then Chatham–Newcastle, which is now Miramichi. And we travelled in a station wagon—a 1966 Pontiac Laurentian—and it was the size of an aircraft carrier, because we were six children with one on the way, my parents in the front seat, the four kids in the back seat, and then the two other kids lying down in the back with no seatbelts. And we travelled all the way to Montréal. We stayed at a campground on the south shore of Montréal that was set up by the military.

And I remember Expo vividly. The children were allowed to enter for seven days for $6. And I remember the Canadian pavilion, which to me was like an upside-down pyramid. While we were there, I saw Bobby Kennedy. I didn't know who he was, but somebody told me he worked for the government. And actually I was looking in our library the—our catalogue the other day, and the picture came up of Bobby Kennedy with three of his sons on the log ride. They were all wearing suits and ties. I thought that was kind of funny.

And I remember being isolated on a radar base, you didn't see too much of the outside world. So I saw my first hippie at Expo 67. And I have a lot of fond memories of Expo. And it was a very exciting time.

GM: Elaine, tell us more about that hippie. What stood out?

EG: The long hair. Everybody had buzz cuts on the base and we didn't have a lot of television back then. The television on Saturday nights was “Hockey Night in Canada” or “Don Messer's Jubilee.” We had one channel, and it was the CBC. And we didn't get exposed to a lot of what was going on in the outside world, so I saw these men with long hair and baggy clothes, and it was very bizarre to me. So I didn't know really what was going on, but it was a really good time.

Everything about 1967 was so exciting, like the songs that were written for Expo 67. I work in the reference area at Library and Archives, and people are ordering a lot of material from Expo 67 now. And I see these materials pass by me, and it brings back a lot of memories. And I take a glance at the books that go by, and the picture books—there's so much. A lot of people are ordering things to commemorate the 150. And it's pretty exciting, and it's bringing back a lot of memories.

GM: Why do you think people are still interested in Expo 67?

MD: [Laughs] Well, I guess it depends on who you think is interested in Expo 67.

GM: I sure am.

MD: Well, then, from your generation, what do you get from Expo 67? Because I know that I get certain things because I was there. And I know that my brother-in-law gets certain things because he was a teenager in Montréal and he went almost every day to Expo. So what he gets out of it is something very different. And I think that everybody who was there experienced Expo differently. And what this fonds does for us is it sort of helps us to understand the broader context. I mean, it's like doing genealogy, right? You have the stories. You have the impressions. But what is really the fact? And what is the context of that experience? That's what Expo does.

So you weren't there at Expo—your generation wasn't—but you can discover that experience partially through the documents that are there. You can understand a part of our history that maybe you didn't understand before because the context is there. So I think that when you look at any historic records, the discovery is there's always an excitement when you have a discovery for the first time. So if you're discovering Expo for the first time, and you see this comprehensive collection of the day-to-day operations of the entity that made it happen, how exciting is that?

GM: You're right. It adds a layer. It adds fact to the stories we hear. And while you were talking, I was just remembering this letter that we found about the hostesses requesting modifications to their uniforms.

MD: Yes.

GM: And that little hat—that little hat that they wore that was specifically designed so people could find them in a crowd. It had three colours on it, so you could find that little hat very quickly, and you could find a hostess. But what the designer hadn't kept in mind was that they were in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, and it was really windy there. So one of the requests that the hostesses made was that we really like the hats, but you've got to find a way to keep them on our heads because they keep flying off. And just that—that little tidbit of humanity—added to the document or the photographs of the hostesses with their little beanie hats, just that little bit, was just like you say, it's a little fun discovery of—oh, it adds that little extra layer of interest to the story of Expo.

MD: And it humanizes it—

GM: Yes.

MD: —for you.

GM: Yes.

MD: I think what Expo does—and I've seen this happen to a number of people who worked on it who didn't have a foreknowledge of Expo—it draws you in. History should draw you in. It is who we are.

[Music]

GM: Quebec musician Marc Gélinas recorded his song “Rendez-vous á Montréal” for Expo. It's on his 1968 album Lorsque le rideau tombe.

Michel Pelletier (MP): Hello, I'm Michel Pelletier. I'm the Manager of Governance, Economy, Environment and Sciences for Library and Archives Canada. I was 6 years old in 1967.

The things that stick with me the most from Expo 67 are the architecture, the design. It's strange, because I was young, but I think about my memories a lot, they've come back to me throughout my career, throughout my life, when I'm working. I went into art history because of Expo, it's probably because of Expo that I went into the history of architecture. I studied design, I studied urban planning.

It was a transcendent moment for a lot of young Montréalers, young Quebecers who hadn't seen anything like it before. Pavilions that I have remembered my whole life, memories that often come back to me. Pavilions like the German Pavilion by Frei Otto, which was an enormous sail mounted on poles. It was extremely striking, it was so luminous in there, and it was so airy. It was also very hot inside—he hadn't thought of that. A lot of the pavilions, not all the pavilions, but a lot of the pavilions were architecturally important at the time. I didn't have the perspective to understand that then, but over time, afterwards, I came to understand it.

I know that when I studied architecture afterwards, when I studied art, there were a lot of works—a lot of references that had components of Expo 67. What were memories of that time, and what was imagined later, I'm not sure, but it touched my life, and it affected an entire generation. Looking back, I recognize that it probably shaped my tastes; I probably became a historian of modern architecture because when I was 6 years old, I was touched by the modernity of Expo.

Josiane Polidori (JP): Hello. My name is Josiane Polidori, and I work at Library and Archives Canada in the literature, music and performing arts archives. I have very specific memories of Expo 67.

I was 10 at the time, and since my family lived in Saint-Lambert, we were right beside it, and I went there very often with my mother and my little sister Marie-France, who was 7. For me, Expo was a lesson in independence, because after going there a few times with my mother, she let me go alone with my sister. We took the bus, and then the metro from Longueuil to Île Sainte-Hélène, and then the two of us went to Expo.

My most vivid memories are of when I was with my sister. We often went back to the Czechoslovakian Pavilion. I know we went often, and it was a favourite pavilion for a lot of people. There were technical elements, now they would probably be more interesting, all the cinema to see, and the interactive sights. But at the time, that wasn't what interested me. What I really loved, and I still remember, very vividly, is the puppet shows. There were big showcases with puppets made by Jiří Trnka an animator, a director of animated films. Puppets that were maybe almost life-size for children, really beautiful, very poetic.

There was the Tree of Tales, there was also a story taken from Shakespeare, I think A Midsummer Night's Dream or something like that, just magnificent scenes decorated with trees but made completely by hand, some marvellous gardens, and we could see clips of films by Jiří Trnka. There were also other animation filmmakers, like Karel Zeman. A few years ago, before coming to LAC, when I worked in children's literature, I met the illustrator Ludmila Zeman. I told her about Expo and everything, and she told me that when she was a little girl, she worked for her father and made some of the puppets that were displayed at Expo 67. So last year, I acquired some drawings by Ms. Zeman, and it was like I had come full circle with Ms. Zeman, who had participated in Expo when she was still in the Czech Republic, and then she immigrated to Canada—some of her drawings are now in our collection. It's something that really touched me and stayed in my memory.

GM: What are the next steps for the Expo fonds?

MD: Well, the work isn't finished, and I'm not sure that I'll live to see it finished [laughs]. Well, in the sense that you always need to be able to monitor your collection to make sure that it's in a good condition. But we will be needing to further the digitization, further working on the architectural drawings, further working on the textual records, describing the records better, finding better access points, just improving it so that we're meeting the research demand and also balancing that with long-term preservation.

You know, as I said, you can't always pick. Or you can't always do everything, so you have to pick what you can make a difference with or not. And sometimes you come across these collections that are highly used, and you see what happens with the repeated handling over and over again. And when you find that and you know it's significant, you have to act. And you have to say, hmm, there may be a digitization project here, or we need to do something so these records will survive another fifty, a hundred, or however many years. So you have to be strategic in your job. And that's what Expo has done for me, is help me be strategic.

GM: Oh, what a fun fonds.

MD: Well, you know, it is, actually.

GM: Yeah.

MD: And it sort of reminds me of why it is that I really like being an archivist. And I get to work with people who—I mean, I'm the lead archivist. I'm the portfolio archivist. But it doesn't mean—and my speciality is I'm a government records archivist. And I deal mainly with textual records, be they in a paper or electronic format. I work with government departments and I have limited—or I would say maybe not now as limited as I once was, but I don't have the same kind of expertise as my special media colleagues. And so, to be able to work as a team is very, very important, because I can't do it all myself.

And this project has really shown me the value of working with my colleagues and how much we have in terms of incredible knowledge within this institution. And when we work together with a common goal of making our records accessible and preserving them, we do wonderful things.

GM: You know, you do have a wonderful team. You have photo archivists, you have cartography archivists, you have architectural archivists who also know maps a little bit—a little bit or a lot. But it is, it is a project that takes a whole team of experts in order to make it properly accessible to the Canadian public.

MD: And it's not just the special media archivists. I rely on archival assistants to help with uploading the descriptions into our accessible database. And I rely on the digitization team to tell me what they're doing. They rely on me. So it's like in order for us to do what we need to do, then we have to work together and consider what is best in the long term for this collection.

GM: And make sure we get to the 75th anniversary of Expo.

MD: Absolutely.

GM: To learn more about the Expo 67 fonds at Library and Archives, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca. To view images associated with this podcast, you can access a direct link to our Flickr album on the episode page for this podcast. And if you liked this episode, you are invited to subscribe to the podcast. You can do it through iTunes, Google Play or the RSS feed located on our website.

Thank you for being with us. I'm Geneviève Morin, your host. You've been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you”. A special thank you to our guests today, Margaret Dixon, Guy Berthiaume, Michel Pelletier, Normand Charbonneau, Elaine Goetz and Josiane Polidori. Also, thanks to LAC photo archivist Emma Hamilton Hobbs for her help on this episode's Flickr gallery.

This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox with assistance from Paula Kielstra.

For more information on our podcasts, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts.

Credits:

A Centennial Song: Canada / The Young Canada Singers
Words and music by Bobby Gimby
© 1967 The Centennial Commission

Expo 67 Two Step / Don Messer & His Islanders
Centennial Souvenir Album, 1967
Apex ALF 1644

Hey Friend Say Friend / Michele Richard
Lyrics by Marcel Stellman & Stephane Venne
Music by Stephane Venne
© 1963 Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition

Montreal gets the call to host Expo 67
CBC News Roundup, November 13, 1962
© CBC

Pearson, Lester B. – Speech, April 27, 1967
Lester B. Pearson fonds
ISN 310116

Rendez-vous à Montréal / Marc Gélinas
Lorsque le rideau tombe
© 2001 Disques Mérite

Date modified: