Expo’s Urban Legacy


A blogger named Pluche has compiled a fascinating collection of photos that documents the remains of Montreal’s Expo 67 site exactly forty years after the World’s Fair took place. Many consider it to be one of the most successful Expos in history; it was certainly well-attended, drawing more than 50 million visitors over six months, setting a record for World’s Fair attendance that still stands today. Most importantly, however, Expo 67 was a turning point in Montreal, Quebec and Canada’s history, a sort of debutante ball for all three.

For such an important event, one whose effects still linger today, it is remarkable how much of the actual Expo grounds have been wasted. The Expo site was created with dirt excavated for Montreal’s metro system, which was used to expand St. Helen’s Island and create an entirely new adjacent island in the St. Lawrence River. (The metro itself was built in preparation for the fair.) A metro stop and an elevated train, the latter now gone, linked the islands to the city. Today, St. Helen’s and the man-made Notre Dame Island are used for recreational purposes. Some of the old Expo pavillions remain, such as that of France, which has been converted into a casino, and that of the United States, a Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome whose shell now houses a water museum. Others were destroyed and a few have been left in ruin. Many of the public spaces created for the Expo are also vacant.

The legacy of Expo 86 stands in contrast to that of its Montreal predecessor. Like Expo 67, Vancouver’s World’s Fair earned the city a rapid transit system and unprecedented international exposure, setting the stage for decades of international investment and, one could argue, a hugely influential wage of immigration from Hong Kong. Unlike Montreal, however, Vancouver’s Expo site was integrated into the city, built on a former railyard between downtown and False Creek. After the fair ended, British Columbia’s government sold the Expo land to the Hong Kong developer Li Ka Shing, who transformed it into a vast, mixed-use development that is now home to 20,000 people. This development was the catalyst for a new approach to urban design that is known in planning circles as the Vancouver Model.

Expo 86 set the stage for an urban revolution in Vancouver. Expo 67 might have revolutionized Montreal culture and politics but its impact on the city’s built form was negligible. For decades, its architectural heritage has been neglected. Will this change with Expo’s fortieth anniversary?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Saturday May 26 2007at 09:05 pm , filed under Heritage and Preservation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

9 Responses to “Expo’s Urban Legacy”

  • hyfen says:

    No mention of Habitat 67? It’s in use today, albeit not as affordable housing.

  • Cool photos. I love “before and after” pics.

  • brian maged says:

    Hate to disagree. Sometimes the profs are right. We shouldn’t mix analogies. For example in a closed system you only see part of the picture. Than you try to draw conclusions from a limited set of information.

    The Expo was originally intended as an urban renewal project, but this was too limited a vision for a mind such as Jean Drapeau. He wanted something that would be great, revolutionary, not just a country fair to put Montreal on the map. He got this better than he ever dreamed possible. It turned Montreal into the great city that it is. With a little help from people like me and my friends Michael Fish, Joe Baker, Bob Silverman, Tooker Gomberg, Denise Feille, and so many, many others.
    There was alot of destruction for Metro construction, and it was here that Mayor Drapeau CONTINUED his immense urban renewal programs. Where have you been! These programs have been underway for 30 years, and your attitude is unfounded and remarkably unresearched. It comes from a lack of information about the environmentalist-heritage movement history. In fact the city has been so overbuilt that our METRO population has increased by 1/3 of a million people since the 2001 census.

    You have to think METRO to understand MONTREAL. EXPO was EXPRESS, it was MINI-rail, but it had only one GODLY metro station. Now we see the cosmos bridge for what it was, a relationship between the dialectical materialism of the soviets, a communion that has failed but a building that still lives, and the American dome whose environment has perished to fire but whose engineering structure remains faithful to the anti-suicide attitude of its religious creator. C’est la vista baby.

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    The way you are mixing up ideas is incredible. The
    Vancouver model if you are implying the site use
    has nothing to do with Montreal which was turned into a permanent theme park, which became temporary and than a large public park. It seems to me that there are not enough attractions in the greater Montreal area and that there is a need to build some of these if only to provide places to get some of the kids away from home. There is a need for some experimental new architecture and a
    special projects zone where novelty can be tested.
    We wouldn’t want to try new things on everybody – this is the problem with modernism. It comes out too quickly because of need, without being properly tested, with so many mistakes, and a lack of understanding of the meaning of many historical symbols. There has been alot of everything in recent years, school buildings, port buildings, housing, urban renewal, computers, you name it.
    I think you should direct your energy into specific projects such as the proposal for Expo 2017, or you can imagine your own, or join me for some of mine. I have hundreds of concepts for urban renewal projects in the Montreal area. I’ve been rather busy all these years. Place Ville Marie was the result of 100 years of debate. Expo itself was first proposed in 1896 for the island site! The dome and La Ronde are similiar to what was conceived of way back than, but the scale, that was the crazy ingredient of success – lots of open air – lots of water – lots of earth – and few shadows, sun energy everywhere. Earth, air, light energy, and water, the making of a 20th century success story. With a good dose of geometry.

  • brian maged says:

    If there is something to be learned from the Expo it is that the key ingredients are threatened. Life on Earth is more than these pleasant little parks that we construct for ourselves. It was cleaning up the St. Lawrence river, something the Expo commissioner never saw to properly when he became minister of environment. Thou Expo seemed 100% successful it was quickly planned and often lacked a reasoned approach (which was largely the result of a lazy BIE (BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITIONS). THE ENVIRONMENT SITUATION WAS EQUALLY POORLY HANDLED OVER A MUCH LARGER TIME SPAN. Today QUEBEC RIVERS ARE STILL HIGHLY POLLUTED AND LAKE CHAMPLAIN IS MISERABLE.
    We have to deal with sustaining ourselves economically – power is not a problem, we have tons of hydro, and infinite types of alternatives but how will we pay for these things and which types do we pursue. How to recycle our supply of Earth resources and maintain the quality of our air – the cfcs, carbon releases; these are all things we have learned since Expo. We should be proud. We are designers. We will make changes and see that others properly follow rules and not try to bury the issue in a lot of mathematics, jargon, or illusion as the Liberal party so famously tried to do. My friend Tooker Gomberg discovered the corruption and his depression was very great and the DOCTORS medications drove him over the edge. A good capitalist, a businessman, he could not understand why he was being beaten up by police, when he wanted to attend global economic summit issues. The United Nations conference held after he died took care of some of the problem, but than the bigots from up North attacking our urban architecture started me into another wave of thought. Its obvious we need some conferences on urban spacial design again.

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    Montreal had an avid animation industry in 1967 and several wonderful pieces were produced for the world fair. It is out of the myriad elements of the fairgrounds that Geo the lion was conceived, the Boule de Neige, several dragons at La Ronde, and of course Le petite Price of Saint-Exupery that was a continuation of Le Jardins des Merveilles and theme for the whole fair of Man and his World. The Montreal Cartoon Club has been in existence since 1982 and in 25 years children have created hundreds of characters. We were once housed in the Kent Centre but currently there is a need for a permanent facility including a professional animation unit.
    The legacy of Expo is just now being felt. Another retrospective of animation is planned called a RETRO. Hopefully we can have animations now being drawn for Zaragoza shown at the Retro and bring in some international animators as well. I think there should be a showing by country similiar to an Expo, and that this event could be supported by the BIE and become a BIE-NNIAL OF FILM ANIMATION in different cities. I think there should be a competition and winners will get a chance to build their special effects theatre or project in the host city. Sometimes RETROS could be on other topics such as ‘monuments’.
    I was instrumental in Canadian animation in the 80s. My club was the driving force in the animation renaissance and for many later projects in fanzines, comic book publishing, and the creation of network Teletoons. I remember going to Harold Greenberg when he didn’t have any jobs in film animation. To take care of an obvious failure on his part this very successful entrepeneur, to my delight, created a whole new network!
    Montreal animation was historically spatially driven. It is only post Expo that its characters became strong. We have for example the Boule de Neiges. I propose Hiboule – a snowy white owl, to complement the existing snowball.
    Montreal’s winter festival is the source of a whole culture of creatures. We also have strong generators in our underground city – I have called the Wonderground City and in our holidays for example Easter or Halloween.
    There is no lack of imagination in Montreal and certainly a need for our governments to harness these creative energies so they become an increasingly active part in generating a cultural income for Montrealers.
    I disagree with your comments about the Vancouver model. Our fair has generated a wonderful winter carnival and numerous recreational events. Michel St. Louis who was the frog of les Feu Follets which was shown everyday at the Canadian pavilion and on the Ed Sullivan show, in 1984 helped me, Brian Maged to initiate Cartoon Club activities that changed the history of Montreal. In fact Montreal is that kind of place. When kids from Ontario needed help they went to Michael Mills and won the Academy award with Charade. Sheridan College was off and running. When Peter launched Disada he got aid from the National Film Board whose Robotheque built after the Expo is available to everyone. Norman Maclaren was a pioneer for all America. I think that so much has been inspired by Expo – Mr. Lapalme was in charge of the arts program. His humour museums, the comedy festivals, the national gallery of cartoons, and so on and so forth have since resulted. We Canadians are weak at recolecting our own history but this 40th anniversary of Expo has done much to make us aware of the incredible achievements that have been made since.
    You sir do not seem to like yourself and have a problem with your judgement. May I add that Montreal’s Dominion Bridge built your Golden Gate and it is on its very lot that much of the work for many of this continent’s greatest film and television productions is now being organized. Your sense of gratitude is appalling. Thanks for considering us with Expo 2017. Our current Mayor works for a clique that were anti-Drapeau and associated with delinquent artists. Perhaps you would be better off dealing with me – a person who Mayor Drapeau said:’I am encouraged by your support and deeply touched from the bottom of my heart.’
    Written by Mayor Drapeau Valentine’s Day 1969 to Brian Maged

    I think if there is any question as to whether we should have a studio, a theme park or an Expo those questions should rightfully be addressed to me.

  • Pluche says:

    I think that the overall text was more oriented toward the physical remains of Expo 67. I’m the one who took the pics you see on top and my little trip down the islands was exactly to show just that: how decrepit everything is, which is a stark contrast to what mayor Drapeau said at the official opening like keeping the site AND buildings for future generations.

    Alas, almost everything has gone to ruins; the only thing that the administrations could think of doing with the island is a Casino and a racetrack used only twice a year. Oh, and the Korean pavillon which is now the property of Maurice the groundhog.

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    Obviously a youngster. During Mayor Drapeau’s
    days as Mayor most of the Expo was preserved as an urban theme attraction called Man and his World. There had been thoughts to turn it into a world peace university in the days following Expo 67.
    tore up the Chicago World fair of 1893, and DISNEY was born in 1900.
    Your photos only show the results of the RCM party, now the UNION party, a rebellious, destructive communist entity with little imagination.
    The remnants of the bolsheviks scourge are only to hard to swallow. There is a movement on to build many needed attractions in the Montreal area so we can reduce the carbon count of emissions. Lac Mirabel the worlds largest shopping amusement centre and other ideas are being built are on the drawing boards. As for the site:
    It is used for many transient events. Come with your wife or family as I have nd photograph the
    enriching atmosphere during the Boule de Neiges or the Festival des Enfants which originally was conceived out of my Cartoon Club activities in 1984
    at Kent Park. You will get a very different picture. The major inflatables and attractions were sponsored by Astral Photo, the company of Harold Greenberg who built up the Canadian film industry and whose company published visitor’s photos at Expo 67.
    At the Childrens festival after the FINA Aquatic
    events I brought a set of photos to show the kids.
    I am a professional historian.
    I showed a local cartoonist on a diving board as a young man with two of his friends in a photo taken at a party given by Walt Disney for the completion of the film Snow White.
    Jack Dunham was the director of the 3 Caballeros
    in Mexico with Donald Duck. He was the lighting designer for the nearby La Ronde Amusement park at Expo 67. He created the St. Hubert BBQ chicken and said it was based on the hen symbol which was the logo of Astral Bellvue Pathe studios.
    I am tired for having to correct your attitudes. Sorry if your age and lack of experience lead to misleading conclusions. Your photos are nice documents. The Roman ruins inspired even greater things. Lets hope you learn from this ‘experience’
    and it helps to expand your perspectives. To take shot at the Mayor as you did was unkind and eserves an apology!

  • Owen says:

    Does the “then and now” photo gallery exist anywhere else? The link no longer works :-(