About 1998 or so, we took a trip to Orlando. I figure every kid ought to see Disney World at least once in their lives, even if it nearly bankrupts the parents. Anyhoo, we went to the Epcot Center one sunny day, and I had a distinct deja vu feeling about the place. Eventually, as we strolled from “country” to “country,” it dawned on me: the feelings I was experiencing were very much like those I had lived through many years earlier as I went through Expo 67 in Montreal.
World’s Fairs used to be a big deal, they certainly still were while we Boomer kids were growing up. In 1967, Montreal hosted a spectacular that was the talk of the planet, officially known as the 1967 International and Universal Exposition. I’m not sure which parent was the most gung-ho to go, I would suspect it was my schoolteacher mom, but dad was all for it, too, perhaps because the conservative ex-Minnesotan would have the opportunity to visit friends and family on the way up to Canada.
So one June day, we piled into the car, my two parents, my reluctant seventeen-year-old brother, and my own eager seven-year-old self.
When we eventually made it to Montreal, I was captivated by the foreignness of the place. Let’s face it, going to the capital of the French province is almost like taking a trip to Europe. The signs everywhere were in French, and the city was the most crowded, busiest, craziest place I’d ever seen.
I remember being in a massive traffic jam, the first I’d ever experienced. There was a road sign stating that the speed limit was 50 MPH (I’m pretty sure it was still MPH in those days). The whole family thought that was hilarious as we crawled along.
I also remember that we stayed in some sort of boarding house in lieu of a hotel. It was either a bargain, or simply no hotels were available in the tourist-packed town, as it was the only time we ever did so. The bathroom was in the hall, shared by a number of individuals. That added even more strangeness to being in a very foreign city.
We spent two, maybe three days at the actual Expo, I can’t remember for sure. My parents shot lots of pics with a Kodak Instamatic, but very sadly, they have disappeared. One I particularly recall was depicting a marquee proclaiming that Simon and Garfunkel would be appearing live onstage, along with Tim Rose. The sign, of course, had both “and” and “et.” My older brother finally had something to get excited about, but the concert cost extra, and my thrifty father refused to let him go, putting him back into a funk that lasted the rest of the trip.
We visited many pavilions, and saw many wondrous sights. But my normally acute memory doesn’t recall that many of them, except the huge geodesic dome that housed the American presentation.
I remember gazing up in wonder as we walked into the structure, seeing the sun entering through thousands of little windows which formed a monstrous sphere. The dome style was the design of world famous architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and they were seen in all sorts of places during the 60’s. It’s still popular, and every time I see one, I think of that American pavilion.
I recall that everything was quite futuristic. Two particular predictions were echoed there, just like they were at nearly every other forward-looking presentation: flying cars, and picture phones.
“Where’s my flying car?” is a common gag today, when those visions of the future are re-examined, but the whole picture phone concept has gotten turned upside down.
The futurists never saw the internet coming. True, they correctly predicted that computers would be a huge part of 21st-century life, but the downfall of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) was never seen. Between cheap or free Voice Over IP and unlimited cell phone plans, the wired telephone is fast going the way of the wing vent window.
Of course, if you like, you can do video chatting, but most of us prefer good old conversation sans video imagery.
The rest of the world put up some amazing displays at Expo 67 too, of course. The Canadian pavilion was very prominent, as it should have been, and while I don’t remember if we visited all of them, I know for sure we hit that one.
I remember going to the pavilion dedicated to Canadian Indians as well. The presentations there were controversial for the depiction of the white man as a persecutor of the aboriginals, but I’d been hearing that for a long time. I guess the WWII generation found something distasteful about that, their children, however, were fully aware via history lessons in school that there was nothing honorable about the exploitation of North America by European explorers and their followers. That was already being taught by second grade in the 60’s.
Eventually, mom and dad decided that we’d seen enough. We spent some time at the Lachine Canal, which I remember vividly. I’d never seen a canal before, the filling and emptying of the locks was fascinating for a kid to watch.
We went home through the eastern states, where I was treated to seeing Niagara Falls and the Great Smokey Mountains. When we finally arrived in Miami, Oklahoma, my brain was full of wonderful memories of strange places, none stranger than the city of Montreal itself.
OK, Boomers, your turn. How many of you were at Expo 67 with me, walking around with your parents and marveling at the sights of a World’s Fair, back when the title still carried meaning?