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Exposing Canada to the World: Expo '67

For the week of Monday January 1, 2007

On January 1, 1967, Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson ‘ignited’ yearlong celebrations of Canada’s 100th birthday with the lighting of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. A highlight of the festivities was Expo ‘67.

Lester B. Pearson (left) and the centennial flame at the Parliament Buildings (right)
Lester B. Pearson (left) and the centennial flame at the Parliament Buildings (right)
© Left: Duncan Cameron / Library and Archives Canada / PA-212239. Right: Parks Canada / A. Guindon / 2002
Expo ‘67 was the 85th world exposition and Canada’s first. Canada won the right to host after the Soviet Union reneged on its agreement to hold the affair in Moscow, fearing the impact of foreign tourists on the city. Montréal Mayor, Jean Drapeau, with the support of the federal government, offered to hold the event in Montréal, and the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris granted them permission to host an exposition of the “first category”.

Expositions of this category explore contemporary humanity. Consequently, the theme of the exposition was “Terre des Hommes” (Man and his World), covering five areas of human life: creation, production, exploration, the role of community, and man’s role as provider. The Canadian Corporation for the World Exposition was given the dizzying task of planning the world-class event.

A world exposition requires a lot of space. Accordingly, a man-made island, Île Notre-Dame, was constructed in the St. Lawrence River and Île Sainte-Hélène was extended at each end using land reclamation techniques. Together, the sites covered roughly 404 hectares.

The Biosphère (left) with images of Île Sainte-Hélène (top right) and Pearson riding the monorail with Queen Elizabeth (bottom right)
The Biosphère (left) with images of Île Sainte-Hélène (top right) and Pearson riding the monorail with Queen Elizabeth (bottom right)
© Library and Archives Canada / 1967
From April 28 to October 27, the exposition drew more than 50 million tourists and 59 world leaders to Montréal. Tourists purchased passports for one day or seven days, or for the duration of the exposition. These granted admission to the pavilions erected by 120 countries, each displaying elaborate exhibits. The Canadian pavilion featured a massive inverted pyramid called Katimavik – Inuktitut for “meeting place.” The German pavilion was a stunning 15-storeys of plastic! Highlighting Britain “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” the British pavilion comprised three structures, one of which featured a massive Union Jack flag. The American pavilion, a geodesic dome, was donated to Montréal and is now Environment Canada’s Biosphère.

As Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II toured the country to celebrate its Centennial, making a stop at Expo ‘67. There, much to the chagrin of her bodyguards, Pearson and the Queen took the monorail through the site, so everyone could see her. Among the other world leaders who visited Canada in 1967 were Princess Grace of Monaco, President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States and French President Charles de Gaulle.

Lester Bowles Pearson, Prime Minister during Canada’s Centennial year, is a National Historic Person.

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