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?
Tags: Montreal, Urban Design