EXPO 1967, MONTREAL


Planned and constructed in just four years, the 1967 Universal and International
Exhibition (Expo ’67), held in Montreal, Canada, was an extraordinary achievement for
the quality of its urban planning, integrated transportation systems, and space frame
architecture.
After visiting the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Canadian senator Mark Drouin,
together with Montreal mayor Sarto Fournier, petitioned the federal government to apply
for a world exhibition to celebrate Canada’s forthcoming centennial in 1967. The request,
submitted to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris, fell short, however,
as the 1967 exposition was awarded instead to the Soviet Union to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the revolution. When the Soviet Union bowed out on 1 April 1962 because
of the exposition’s tremendous estimated cost, Canada immediately reapplied. In
November 1962, the BIE granted Canada permission to stage a “first category”
exhibition, which stipulated in part international participation, a contemporary theme, and
minimal commercial content.
The Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition (CCWE) was to manage the
fair in Montreal. Its theme, “Man and His World,” was inspired by French author and
aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book Terre des Hommes. Four sub-themes were additionally chosen—
“Man the Explorer,” “Man the Creator,” “Man the Producer,” and “Man in the
Community”—with separate pavilions devoted to each.
In January 1963, architects Bedard, Charbonneau, and Langlois agreed upon a site,
using the city waterfront and a man-made island offshore in the St. Lawrence River
connected to existing Ile Sainte-Hélène, an early 19th-century military installation turned
into a park. Preparation of the site began in August 1963, and construction was completed
ten months later. Fifteen million tons of landfill, dredged from the river and excavated
from Montreal’s accelerated subway construction in preparation for Expo, was used to
double the size of Ile Sainte-Hélène (with the original island left as a public park) and to
create the new Île Notre-Dame. Under the management of Commissioner General Pierre
Dupuy, Colonel Edward Churchill was placed in charge of the Installations Department.
In the project’s early stages, Van Ginkel & Associates, a local urban-planning office, was
charged with developing the site design, but for the final site plan the BIE commissioned
Montreal architects André Blouin, Fred Lebensold, and Guy Desbarats. In December
1963, the master plan for Expo’ 67 was submitted to the Canadian Parliament for
approval, and the completed site was turned over to the CCWE the following July for the
infrastructure and pavilions.
The principal architects and planners of Expo’ 67 included Edouard Fiset as chief
architect, Adele Naudé (from Harvard) as site plan designer, and architect-urbanist
Steven Staples (from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as head of the planning
team. The site design borrowed from various influences, including the 1964–65 New
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York World’s Fair, modernist urban-planning and North American suburban shopping
center layouts, and the ideas of MIT planning professor Kevin Lynch.
Expo’s 285-hectare site was divided into four main activity poles: (1) the
entrance and administration buildings, which were constructed as
permanent structures, at Cité-du-Havre in Pointe-Saint-Charles and on
Mackay Pier in the port; (2) the extended southwestern end of Ile Sainte-
Hélène with pavilions, Place-des-Nations public square, and connected to
the Cité-du-Havre by the new Concordia Bridge (Beaulieu, Trudeau &
Associates, engineers; Claude Beaulieu, consulting architect); (3) the Île
Notre-Dame, where most of the pavilions were located; and (4) the La
Ronde amusement area on the northern end of Ile Sainte-Hélène. Because
the St. Lawrence River surrounded the site, water was a major motif
expressed by the lagoons and canals on Ile Notre Dame, two small lakes
on Ile Sainte-Hélène, and the placement of the most preferred pavilion
sites on the water’s edge.
To unify the site, the largest national pavilions were grouped as poles of attraction with
theme pavilions and train stops nearby. These anchor poles were placed at the extreme
ends and around the periphery of the activity areas to create striking perspectives and
vistas and a flow of people by the smaller pavilions, shops, sculptures and fountains,
entertainment stages, and kiosks in between. Scenic perspectives were created by specific
alignments and orientations, and, except for the more important pavilions, the size of the
architecture was restricted to a human scale.
Transportation to and around the Expo site was remarkably well integrated, and aimed
to make the fair easily navigable. From large parking lots at Cité du Havre and at
Longueuil on the river’s south shore, the primary conveyor was the Expo Express rapidspeed
train operating on elevated tracks. The main secondary system was a slower,
elevated monorail train bought from the 1964 national exposition at Lausanne,
Switzerland. Other means of moving about the site included boats and ferries in the
canals and lagoons, cable cars over La Ronde, and trailer trains driving on roads
separated from the pedestrian paths. Motor vehicles were banned from the site except for
service vehicles on periphery routes. Apart from the Expo Express train, the island site
could be accessed from the city by subway to Ile Ste-Hélène, hovercraft, and ferry or
from one of several bridges.
Fifty-three private pavilions and 60 others representing 120 countries were erected for
Expo’ 67. For the most part, the buildings were experimental, contemporary in design,
and expressively modernist. One of many guidelines imposed for the pavilions stipulated
a light and temporary rather than a massive and permanent appearance. As a result, the
most significant structural forms were built of prefabricated, modular elements assembled
in striking sculptural forms, such as the covering of the West German Pavilion, made of a
suspended cable mesh system designed by architect Frei Otto. However, the most
significant system by far was space frame construction utilizing aluminum tube
components, most impressively in Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the United
States Pavilion and the flexible assembly of Walter Eykelenboom’s Netherlands Pavilion.
Experiments in prefabricated, low-cost housing were also of architectural note at
Expo’ 67, particularly the Cuban Pavilion (Baroni, Garatti, Da Costa, architects) and
Habitat’ 67 (Moshe Safdie, architect, with David, Barott, Boulva, associated architects).
Whereas the former featured a bolted steel frame and brightly painted aluminum panel
walls, the latter was constructed of factory-produced concrete units assembled as a large
prototype community housing project.
The creation of the Expo’ 67 site and its superb urban design ultimately have had a
longer-lasting impact than any of the fair’s architecture, as only space frame systems
have found substantial applications in today’s buildings. At present, half a dozen of the
original pavilions remain, including the French and Quebec Pavilions, which have been
modified and merged to form the Montreal Casino, and the United States Pavilion,
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recycled into an environmental information center. The islands are now known as Jean
Drapeau Park, Montreal’s largest green space.

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