IT WAS 45 YEARS AGO this Summer. Expo 67, the World’s Fair. I remember it very well — though I was just 11 at the time. My family — my Mom and Dad, my brother, and our little part-beagle-part-terrier Cookie — drove up from Virginia in our blue ’64 Belvedere.
We had an attachment to Canada, because in earlier years we had travelled across thousands of miles of her beautiful plains and mountains almost every Summer, driving from Alaska to Minnesota and back again. Quebec was new to us, though.
I had been prepared to be disliked, since some folks had said the Francophones don’t like Anglophones. But I experienced nothing like that. The Quebecers seemed to like me, and I liked them back. No one seemed to mind speaking English to us. Except for the euphonious sound of French, which still delights me, they seemed just like us.
A child of the Cold War, I was very sensitive to the differences between the American and Soviet pavilions. The Soviets showcased their advanced technology — aerospace, scientific, and consumer — very skilfully indeed. There was a sense of pride and greatness in the way the Russians presented themselves, and one was very conscious that it was Russia being shown to us, and not so much the multicultural Soviet empire. There was a tone of seriousness. The art shown, for the most part, was of high quality. And the Russians we spoke to were, well, pretty much just like us with a Slavic accent.
The American pavilion, which I very much wanted to be the best, and better than what the Soviets had to offer, was a disappointment. While the space program displays were impressive, and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome was a thing of beauty, almost everything else was frivolous or ugly in a kind of vacuous pop-art / Hollywood kind of way. There was a tone of emptiness and meaninglessness.
The fair took place on Canada’s centennial, and the new red and white Canadian “maple leaf” flag had just come out a couple years before. It was pretty, but I liked the familiar old red ensign flag much better, with its sense of glorious empire and all that. I also remember the stirrings of Quebec independence that were encouraged by French President Charles de Gaulle and his “Vive le Québec libre” statement made in Montreal during his visit to the fair. (Since the Usual Suspects are against an independent Quebec — ethny-based states are kind of, well, evil, don’t you know? — it must be a good thing, all things considered.)
A new kind of apartment complex, called “Habitat,” was on display at the fair. It looked very futuristic from a distance. But seeing it up close, I was unimpressed. It seemed that a lot of verbiage was being spun to make us fall in love with the idea of squeezing into tiny rabbit hutches and living in concrete cubes cheek by jowl with our neighbors, with few trees, no open space, no woods, and no privacy.
I remember the jerry-built apartments catering to visitors that had sprung up, the French spoken on the streets, the beauty of old Montreal’s architecture, the amazing (but crowded) metro, the impressive hovercraft, the space-age look of everything at the fair, the glass “ski-jump” of the USSR pavilion and the man selling “real Russian ice cream” to cool off the people in the hot sun waiting to get in, the glittering dome of the US pavilion (and the long line that it wasn’t worth waiting in to get inside), the monorail, Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” on the radio seemingly every ten minutes, and a miniskirt density never to be seen again on planet Earth.
I also remember that I had begun to acquire a feeling that there was meaning behind all I saw.
I think I’d like to see Quebec and its people again.