Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
On the anniversary of its closing day, take a video tour of Montreal's six months as the center of the world.
Montreal's Expo 67 came to a close on October 29, 1967. Over 200,000 visitors that day bumped the final attendance for the six-month fair to 50.3 million, more than twice Canada's entire population at the time.
It was a successful fair, one that managed to survive a 30-day transit worker strike in September and faced no attacks from militant Quebec separatists as originally feared.
Using 25 million tons of construction rubble from the city's new subway system, the fair saw the creation of a new island (Île Notre-Dame), the enlargement of an already existing one (Île Ste-Hélène), and the transformation of a pier into a neighborhood (Cité du Havre). It also saw the creation of North America's first fully automated rapid transit system, the Expo Express, which served the three World's Fair areas and was eventually taken out of service in 1972. The final cost for building out the fair was $432 million CDN (about $2.9 billion CDN in 2014).
With a theme of "Man and His World" (based on a 1939 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book) in mind, 62 countries did their best to wow visitors to the fair through architecture and curated cultural displays. Few achieved that better than the United States, with its Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome.
One of the few permanent structures for Expo 67, the building was an immediate success and now functions as a government-run environmental museum. As seen in the film above produced by Cambridge Seven (the firm that collaborated with Fuller on the structure), its interior was filled with pop art, NASA equipment, and Hollywood ephemera during the Expo.
To cynics, it told a deceptive story about a war-loving country—but looking back, it was more of an optimistic look at what the U.S. stood for. "We got some terrible letters at the beginning from congressmen who were upset because we didn't show our weapons, our industry," one architect from the firm says in the film. Another member of the firm adds, "We tried to show the other side, the tender side, the creative side."
That peaceful, playful message fit in well with the rest of Expo 67. An event that brought in all types of people looking for amusement as much as (if not more than) enlightenment, the National Film Board of Canada captured the spirit of the event beautifully in its 1967 piece, "Impressions of Expo 67":