October 29th, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of Expo 67, the world’s fair held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. A celebration of the hopes and dreams of the future, as well as time to celebrate the centennial of Canada, Expo 67 was the time and place for Canada to shine on the world stage.
Constructed on two islands in the St. Lawrence River, over 50 million people would walk through the admission gates by the time the fair closed in October of 1967. This fair brought international praise and applause for the fantastical work that was done, and acclaim for Canada in hosting such a successful fair. Expo 67 was second only in attendance to the Paris Exposition of 1900.
The Walt Disney Company was not absent from Expo 67. Famous for introducing attractions like the Carousel of Progress, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and It’s a Small World at the 1964-65 World Fair in New York, the Disney company made its contribution to Expo 67 in one major role: film.
When the fair opened on April 29th, 1967, Walt Disney had only been dead for a few months, and the involvement that the company took was small compared to what they did in New York. Though Walt himself had met with fair organizers during the planning stages, the Disney footprint was not a sizeable one. Where the Disney work shined was at the Telephone Association of Canada Pavilion.
The Walt Disney Company worked diligently to create a film for the pavilion called Canada 67. Filmed in Circle-Vision 360, this 22-minute production would bring in 1500 people at a time to watch a journey through the nation of Canada. From swooping over Niagara Falls to watching the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride, audience members cheered as Canada was celebrated with reverence and joy.
The film was not without its critics. Many Canadian journalists lamented that this had to be an American made production because of the “rah-rah” spirit throughout the film that Canadians would never indulge in. The film was accused of proudly flashing the patriotism card too often while allowing viewers the chance to explore parts of the 2nd largest nation in the world.
The circular film was a one of a kind experience. Metal railings that divided the theatre into perfectly even rows not only provided a method to channel people in but enabled guests to grab onto something when the immersive movie would bank unexpectedly over Niagara Falls. This Circle-Vision film would go on to inspire the Canada Pavilion at Epcot. From the description of the theatre to the images that popped up in the film, the world would meet Canada at Epcot when that park opened in 1982 in much the same way.
Canada 67 allowed Canadians the opportunity to celebrate the nation, and be openly proud of their country. Canadian’s are often portrayed as being shy or unwilling to boast about our accomplishments. Had the Disney Company not made this movie then an opportunity could have been lost to showcase this great land. Based on the reaction of the visitors, who shed tears of joy and heaped praise. Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson wanted the film shown in movie theatres across the country because he felt it was an important movie for every citizen to see. It seems like the movie critics complaints were in the minority.
This fair has left its mark on Canada and fifty years later, people are still reflecting on and talking about the impact that this celebration had. Historian John Lownsbrough titled his book on Expo 67 as The Best Place to Be. No matter what resource I have looked at, this fair certainly lived that title.
I have recently come into possession of the April 1967 National Geographic and Life magazines that were promoting the opening of the fair. The fold-out map is a work of art that equals the August of 1963 National Geographic Disneyland fold-out map and provides the reader with an overview of what happened on these two islands in Montreal for seven months in 1967. You can’t help but look at the overhead monorail as it passes through and think about the monorail that would come to dominate Walt Disney World.
The American Pavilion looks so much like Spaceship Earth in Epcot that it makes me think that perhaps the work of Expo 67 may have been a testing ground or maybe an inspiration to Walt Disney Imagineering for later developments.
I am a proud Canadian who loves all things Disney, even Condor Man. I look at Expo 67 as one of those moments in time that I would love to travel back to and see first hand. Until that day is possible, I will have to content myself with images from magazines and the multiple videos that populate YouTube.
It may have been the best place to be, but the fair continues to inspire the dreamers of today and hold a place in the city of Montreal. Though many pavilions are long gone, including the Telephone Association of Canada Pavilion, if you walk along the fairgrounds, the original amusement park built with the fair, La Ronde, is still in service. The American Pavilion, still stands tall on the river waiting to welcome guests to its new role as a biosphere.
The YouTube videos below should give you a great perspective of this fair. Enjoy the trip, and don’t forget to look out for Canada 67.