Readers of a certain age – those with Ontario roots, at least – will recall how a regular part of the elementary-school year was to take part in the public-speaking competition. You wrote a speech, memorized it, and presented it to your class; the students whose speeches were voted best in class went on to compete against the rest of the school; and the winners there went on to compete against kids from other schools. I won’t go into the details of speech-time and me, save that I was often involved in it further along in the process than I would have liked, given my terror of speaking in front of an audience. Perhaps another post on that whole subject another time. (Readers, please share your speech memories!)
I am pretty sure I once did a speech whose title was “My Trip to Expo.” Though it is possible that that name, quite stuck in my head as it is, was the title of a school composition exercise. In any event, consider this blog post my updated report of that long-ago trip. Since it’s now 45 years since that magical summer (“The Last Good Year,” as Pierre Berton rather dyspeptically put it in the subtitle to his book on 1967), the time seemed right.
Those young enough not to have been around for Expo 67 probably can’t imagine what a big deal it was for Canada. It seems to me we lived and breathed Expo that year. It was everywhere: television, the newspapers, magazines. Of course the fact that it was Canada’s centennial year added a huge amount of oomph and importance to what otherwise would have been just (just!) a world’s fair. For the centennial celebrations we planted Centennial Rose bushes, and people dressed up in 19th-century costumes at special events; but what really caught people’s imagination was Expo. Witness “My Centennial Scrapbook,” rather bedraggled-looking now after all these years, but a source of great pride to me when I’d completed it as a Grade 2 school project. (I guess I must have been proud of it to have kept it though all the intervening years and changes of domicile.) In theory it’s about centennial year; in practice, the inside contents (save for a Karsh portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip and a few bits and bobs about Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier) are all about Expo: the pavilions, the Minirail, the rides at La Ronde, the sheer wonder of it all.
Everyone of course wanted to go to Expo. And I finally got my chance, and what excitement that was: one whole day at Expo!
(This must be amusing for Raymond, who was working just outside Montreal that year and used the opportunity to spend every moment he could at Expo, visiting every pavilion and soaking up as much as he could – the food, the entertainment, all of it. Of course, it helped not only that he was conveniently close but that he was 19 years old and on his own, while I was only 7 and reliant on grownups for my visit.)
I was taken by my Aunt Marion and my mum, Lorna. We got up at 3 a.m. or so and drove from Queensborough to the train station in Belleville, where we boarded the train for far-off Montreal. Such an adventure! What I remember most was a water fountain on the train and the little cone-shaped disposable paper cups that you could fill up with water. I’d never seen such a thing.
And then we were in Montreal, and at Expo! I have very vague memories of most of it: huge Giacometti sculptures; a cute Mini painted like a Union Jack, with long “eyelashes” on the headlights, in the British pavilion; the Minirail going right through Buckminster Fuller‘s U.S. pavilion. I do remember one thing very vividly, however: a ride on the Flume, or La Pitoune as it’s known in French: a hollowed-out log in which you rode a watery course, around turns and up and down hills. That was absolutely the be-all and the end-all. Here’s a wonderful video posted by a fine blog on all things Expo called Expo 67 Lounge (highly recommended for all who have Expo nostalgia or are sorry they missed it):
Talk about good clean fun and simple pleasures.
(Not long after I moved to Montreal to work at The Gazette, in 1997, I visited La Ronde and was delighted to see that La Pitoune is still in operation – a gentle and old-fashioned thing amid all the terrifying and sick-inducing thrill rides.)
And then my one day at Expo was over, and it was time to catch the last train back to Belleville. I remember being sleepier than I had ever been in my life, though I came alive a fair bit when, quite late at night (9 o’clock, maybe? Past my bedtime, at any rate) Aunt Marion treated me to the biggest ice-cream cone I had ever seen, much less eaten. It was chocolate, and it cost twenty-five cents! And sometime after that, I was fast asleep and then, magically, back home in my bed.
I’m sure readers have their own memories of Expo, and probably many of you were lucky enough to be able to spend more than just one day there. But for a little girl from a family living on a rural minister’s pay in tiny Queensborough, a day at Expo was more than enough. It was a dream come true.