If you live in, or have ever travelled to Montreal, Quebec, you will have heard of Expo 67′: an international exposition celebrating Canada’s centennial. Everything from buildings to couches were designed for the Expo, creating a great cultural output that remains an important part of the city’s history and design.
The Sixties and Seventies were an interesting period of time for Montreal. In the race to become a modern metropolis, the city’s skyline became a massive jumble of cranes and concrete. Back then, an ambitious man named Jean Drapeau was mayor of the city. Today, he is often designated as a visionary, as it was under his 29-year rule that many of the city’s biggest projects happened, such as 1967 World Fair (best known as Expo 67) and the 1976 Summer Olympics. Senator Mark Drouin of Québec first developed the idea of a world exhibition in Montréal to serve as a focal point for Canada’s celebrations of its 100th birthday. Drouin and senator Sarto Fournier, former mayor of Montréal, first presented the idea to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris, but that body initially decided that the 1967 world exhibition should be held in Moscow. In late 1962, however, the Soviet Union cancelled its plans. Montréal’s mayor, Jean Drapeau, made a fresh presentation to the BIE, and the exhibition was awarded to Canada. That Expo 67 was sanctioned by the BIE virtually assured participation by many countries. The BIE also designated it as an exhibition of the “first category,” the first to be held in North America. The most important aspect of this “first category” classification is that the exposition must cover the full range of activities of contemporary humanity. The theme program was divided into five main groups: Man the Creator, Man the Explorer, Man the Producer, Man the Provider, and Man and the Community. These, in turn, were divided into subgroups. To implement the theme, the exhibition corporation invested almost $40 million in buildings strategically located around the site for the theme groups. For example, illustrating Man the Creator was an exhibit of approximately 160 paintings borrowed from museums and individuals worldwide and exhibitions of sculpture, photography, and industrial design. The social sciences and humanities were grouped under Man and the Community.
Expo 67 has been called the best world’s fair ever. The New York Times praised its “sophisticated standard of excellence…(that) almost defies description.” Author Pierre Berton said it was a miracle. How, he asked, did we manage to pull off the greatest world exposition in history with about half the start-up time that most of the world’s fairs require? The modernization process, however, was aggressive and many neighborhoods and historic buildings were destroyed in order to make place for the new infrastructures that were required to host both happenings. This engendered much protesting at the time and ongoing criticism in the following decades, regarding costs and what to do with the buildings once the events were over.
10 Of the Most Iconic Expo 67′ Designs
Buckminster Fuller’s U.S. pavilion drew special praise from the McGill archivists and indeed from most visitors to Expo. It was described as “a marvel of structural design. If you want to learn more about Buckminster Fuller and the Geodesic Dome, head to our article on Buckminster Fuller’s Influence on Design. This six-level geodesic dome was the first of its kind, specially designed to create a new environment through structure. The transparent acrylic domes set inside the steel structure glistened in the day and glowed from interior lighting at night.”Originally, the intention was to dismantle the dome after Expo 67, but due to budget limitations, the dome’s structure was secured and remained—becoming a key feature of Montreal’s cityscape. For the following nine years, the sphere remained open to the public. In 1976, however, there was a maintenance-related accident that caused the acrylic covering of the sphere to catch on fire, encasing it in wild flames for around half an hour. When the blaze was finally doused, the acrylic frame had entirely disappeared—leaving behind just the sphere’s steel frame. After that, it was closed for 15 years.In 2007, the mission of the Biosphere expanded into being a more broadly themed environmental museum, with various exhibits and interactive features for visitors to explore different issues connected to ecosystems and sustainability. It continues to illuminate the city’s horizon with dazzling, colorful displays of light.
2. The Casino
While the use of the current casino as such took place well after the initial build, in 1992, the building itself was originally the French pavilion for Expo 67. The Casino de Montréal occupies three buildings, two of which are former pavilions from Expo 67. One is the French Pavilion, a nine storey structure that was one of the largest on the exhibition site. It was designed by Jean Faugeron and André Blouin. After the fair closed this pavilion was converted into the Palais De la Civilization, an historical and sociological museum. In 1993 it was converted again, this time into the city’s casino. This new venture also incorporated the former Quebec Pavilion (see below) and added a new third block.The casino is very famous for its distinctive architectural features, which include its low ceilings and numerous windows. The modern-styled French Pavilion is a tall steel and concrete structure that is wrapped in aluminum fins. It was praised for its unique, airy feeling and was very noticeable at the fairgrounds. The interior showed exhibitions that outlined Canada’s advancement in science and technology. The terrace on the rooftop area displayed sculptures by Niki de Sainte-Phalle. The Quebec Pavilion, is also part of the Casino de Montréal complex. It is not as unique as the French Pavilion, but it was very contemporary looking when it was first built. The exterior had glass walls that function as mirrors in the daytime and at night they are illuminated display cases. It had been surrounded by water and was only accessible using a footbridge. Its exhibitions centered on the progressive province of Québec that focused on the future.
3. Habitat 67′
Habitat 67 has the stature of a historical monument. Extravagant in its modernity, aestheticism and minimalism, Habitat 67 is praised around the world. A true emblem of innovative housing, this building has marked the Montreal landscape for half a century and reconciles quality of life and urban context by redefining the design of living spaces.The modular unit is the base, the means and the finality of Habitat 67. 354 magnificent grey-beige modules are stacked one on another to form 148 residences, nestled between sky and earth, city and river, greenery and light. It all comes together in a gigantic sculpture of futuristic interiors, links, pedestrian streets and suspended terraces, aerial spaces, skylights of different angles, large esplanades and monumental elevator pillars. The architect of Habitat 67 created a unifying work that continues to inspire, over fifty years after its construction. The building was born from Moshe Safdie’s university thesis while he was still a student at McGill. Created as part of Expo 67, Habitat 67 is a reflection on function and the role of architecture in a high-density urban environment.
4. The Montreal Metro System
The Montreal metro opened on 14 October 1966. The second Canadian subway system after Toronto’s, which opened in 1954, the Montreal metro was the first subway in North America to run on rubber tires instead of metal wheels. Extensions to the Montreal metro were built on Montreal Island over the two decades after it opened, and then to the city of Laval, on the island of Île Jésus, during the 2000s. The system runs entirely underground, and each station has a distinct architecture and design. Philosophy aside, for constructors there was earth to move. Pushing the pace on the municipal infrastructure side, Berton wrote, was Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, who supported the St. Lawrence River site and the expansion of a piece of land in the Hochelaga Archipeligo into the two host islands, using 25-million tonnes of fill extracted from excavations for the now-expedited Montreal subway system. The metro’s Yellow Line became a priority for the project owner, Montreal’s Bureau de metro, and by the opening of Expo there were 21 kilometres of subway with 22 stations completed. The debate over a Montreal metro changed rapidly in the fall of 1960. Jean Drapeau became mayor again after three years out of office. His Civic Party secured a majority on the city council and with it greater freedom of action. In private, Drapeau was lukewarm to the idea of building a subway. But Lucien Saulnier, his new right-hand man and chair of the city’s Executive Committee, was an ardent champion of the project. Saulnier tried to convince Drapeau to go ahead with it. The novelty of the metro and the opening of Expo 67 helped to increase public transit ridership in Montreal rapidly. Ridership rose from 268.7 million passengers in 1965 to 300 million in 1967. By the end of 1966, when the metro had been open for only 2.5 months, riders had already made 32.1 million trips on the system. As someone who takes this metro system frequently, I can attest to the beauty and invention that was put into each and every station. It is always a joy to ride it because of the details, I feel that I am always discovering something new.
5. Plastic and Metal Chairs
In 2017, Montreal will celebrate 50 years since Expo 67, the year it welcomed over 50 million visitors, a feat not repeated since the Paris Exposition universelle in 1900. To mark the occasion, a chair symbolizing that period for a whole generation was recently re-launched. Emile Metivier, the founder of IPL and a visionary inspired by the merging of that period’s international and local designs, took on the challenge of producing a chair made of HDPE plastic resin that required a sizeable mould. 60,000 of these relatively unknown and unnamed chairs were manufactured for the site of Expo 67. By the end of the 70s, close to 150,000 chairs had been sold before the concept was pulled from the market. In 1990 a Beauce company, Les Industries Emile Lachance, purchased the mould of the seat and started using it again.
August D., a new Quebec furniture and design products distributor, has relaunched the M.E67 Chair, which now features a metal structure manufactured in Quebec and was redesigned to promote a lighter, more contemporary look. The steel base’s design imitates the meshing of metal triangles forming the current spherical skeleton of the Biosphere, the former United States Pavilion, that famous geodesic globe conceived by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67. August D. was initiated by its founder Guyleine Bureau whose passion for the chairs and design of the 60’s motivated her to help everyone relive the Expo period through the Chair. “Even though a chair seems to be a basic object, it is more than the sum of its parts. Chairs reflect social and esthetic changes through time. No other piece of furniture presents so many possibilities of making and establishing connections. The success of a chair has always depended on the quality and range of relationships it creates while meeting a specific need. A chair’s shape and materials trigger physical and psychological connections with the individual who sits on it, as well as with its surroundings and the people around it,” says Bureau.
6. Christen Sorenson Chairs
Comfortable and durable, with clean lines and a simple, modern aesthetic that allows for ease of maintenance. The distinctive design and upholstery technique allows for a multitude of unique combinations by way of textiles and color. Outside back is Natural Beech and separated from the inside back and seat by a simple white welt detail. Designed in 1967 and introduced at Expo but unbelievably modern for today’s corporate and casual environments. Christen Sorenson was an industrial designer from Denmark; a graduate of Denmark’s famed Kunsthandwaerkerskolen, or School for the Arts and Crafts, Sorensen studied under a who’s who of Danish modernism, including Hans J. Wegner, Borge Møgensen, and Bender Madsen. Upon graduation, he opened his own studio; furniture designed and produced there were exhibited at Milan’s Triennale in 1955. Sorensen moved to Montreal the following year, working on major commercial and transportation projects, and eventually becoming involved in the design of three pavilions in the legendary Expo ’67. His elegantly minimal Respons chair was introduced by Keilhauer in 1990. Twenty five years later, it is still in production.
7. RS Associates Teak Table
After the Second World War there was a ground shift in Quebec. The Quebecois started shaking off the mantle of a previously repressive order and began seeking out new art, music, and design. This was coupled with a political shift as well with a growing momentum for the right to self-determination as a people, and as a nation. The movement was known as the quiet revolution. With this new taste for Modern local manufacturers, particularly in Montreal, began producing new furniture that reflected this sense of social freedom and offered it to a public eager to buy it. RS Associates was one of these companies. There’s not a lot of information about RS Associates, even the ‘Canadian Design Bible’ Design in Canada makes no mention of them, but the scope of their output during the 1960’s is staggering. Taking most of their design cues from the Scandinavian manufacturers (which was wildly popular in Montreal and imported by boatload weekly during the 1960’s) RS Associates felt they could create a similar aesthetic at a much more reasonable cost and soon their teak pieces were flying out of the stores. The designs of RS Associates are more often than not of a utilitarian nature with basic, well-made items that would serve day-to-day use. Sometimes, however, they experimented with more whimsical forms like the ‘Martini’ coffee and table set that is undoubtedly one of the most popular with collectors today. They produced a set of tables for the Expo 67 that remain in circulation, and are quite beautiful.
8. Expo 67 Posters
In addition to traditional campaigns of flyers, posters, and souvenirs, the organizers created their own information medium, Expo Digest, a newsletter with a circulation of over a hundred thousand. The posters were each designed by different artists and designers. One famous one, with a green background and a blue abstract object on it was created by Canadian graphic designer and artist Guy Lalumière. Now, some of the vintage posters go for hundreds of dollars, while you can find reproductions for a lot cheaper.
9. Lanka Matha Stained Glass
George Keyt, a Sri Lanken artist, was Invited to participate in ‘EXPO 1967’ to be held in Montreal, Canada. He is often considered Sri Lanka’s most distinguished modern painter. Keyt’s dominant style is influenced by cubism. He also claimed to be influenced by his contemporary Henri Matisse and the ancient Buddhist art and sculpture of Nagarjunakonda, Sanchi and Gandhara Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, who held the ministry of foreign affairs, instructed foreign secretary G.V.P.Samarasinghe to spare neither expense nor effort to make the Ceylon Pavilion truly memorable. Ceylon’s High Commissioner in Canada L.S.B.Perera , wealthy race-horse owner and top administrator was a key figure in the organisation. His wife Nimal was an aficionado of Ceylon’s art and culture. It is, therefore, most likely that it was Mrs. Perera who inspired the idea to have a large painting by George Keyt as the centrepiece of the Ceylon Pavilion. George Keyt rose to the opportunity of exposure to an international audience and painted a large canvas (529cm x 260cm) of Lanka Matha/ Mother Lanka in all her luxuriance as a village maiden carrying on her hip the punkalasa (amphora) symbolising abundance and fertility. The identity of who was responsible for what happened next remains a mystery. This was the decision to reinterpret Keyt’s mural , with his consent, in the medium of stained glass panels (not a ‘tapestry’ as the artist seemed to remember a couple of decades later). The painting was transported to London. Proper research had obviously been done before Keyt’s painting was entrusted to ‘Studio Stained Glass’ at Whitefriars. The studio transformed the painting into seven panels of 67cm x 260cm each. These panels were then shipped to Montreal where they were meticulously reassembled at the Ceylon Pavilion to be its greatly admired center-piece. At the conclusion of the EXPO a major issue that arose was the disposal of Keyt’s mural. Apart from the inevitable logistical problems of shipping these panels intact to Ceylon, was the organisers’ awareness that there was no gallery in Colombo that could house it for display with the extraordinary care it deserved. The Foreign Ministry and our High Commission in Ottawa then came up with the brilliant idea to gift the mural, as a gesture of gratitude, to the City of Montreal that had hosted the Exposition.
10. Trois Disques
Created by Alexander Calder, this abstract sculpture was a gift from the International Nickel Company for Expo 67. It still stands at the old site of Expo 67, now called Parc Jean-Drapeau. It reflects the theme of Expo 67, “Man and His World”. Calder’s sculpture Trois disques is composed of five arches made of unpolished stainless steel. The overlapping arches stand on six slender posts whose tops are adorned with two points and three disks. With its abstract form, the arachnoid structure – asymmetrical but balanced – creates plays of shadow and light that evoke dance movements.The sculpture symbolizes human progress and power. Its site – it was moved in 1991 to the belvedere in Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Sainte-Hélène build to receive it, 300 metres from its original site – allows the public to circulate around the work and view it from different angles, from near and far. Over the years, it has become an important landmark in the Montréal landscape. Considered one of the foremost sculptors of the twentieth century, a “merry engineer, troublesome architect, and sculptor of the times,” according to Jacques Prévert, Calder left his mark in the public space with his “mobiles” and “stabiles.” The latter word, invented by Jean Arp, defines Calder’s monumental artworks composed of simple shapes anchored to the ground.
As a resident of Montreal, I get to see these monuments constantly: they make the city feel unique and beautiful. Travelling on the metro, going to Jean Drapeau park, there are so many ways to remember and be immersed in the incredible cultural output of the 60’s in Montreal. If you have never been, it is worth the trip. The rich culture and art combined with these specific historical monuments make it a wonderful place to learn and explore!