“My Trip to Expo”

A Grade 2 school project of mine, a scrapbook celebrating (ostensibly) Canada’s centennial year, but in reality it was all about Expo 67.

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.

Everything about Expo was amazing: the architecture, the modernity – even the typeface! This shows the Canadian pavilion; the round red ball at right is (as I have just found out, having referred to the scrapbook made by my 7-year-old self) “The Tree of People of Canada.”

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.

28 thoughts on ““My Trip to Expo”

  1. I remember driving up to Expo with my cousin, LU, (if Ray was 19 then we were all of 17) in Lu’s new car, and we picked up Roy Campbell on the way, he was at Umass, Amherst. Didn’t we almost run out of gas, LU? We stayed with Ray and we didn’t tell our parents..!

  2. Katherine, this brings back a tsunami of memories. Yes, the log ride was a hit, and so was the Bell Pavilion, with its 360-degree movie in which spectators felt they were caught in the middle of the Mounties’ Musical Ride. I can’t imagine what Ottawa has planned for Canada’s sesquicentennial five years from now – what do you get for a country that’s turning 150? – but it will pale in comparison with centennial year and Expo 67.
    Also a kid from rural Ontario (of Raymond’s vintage), I had two Expo experiences. The first occurred when I, along with fellow students from Penetanguishene Secondary School, rode a bus all day to stay at a dormitory on the South Shore. We spent the next day at Expo, but my enjoyment was marred by a hangover-like headache caused, not by alcohol, but the younger students the night before. While we older, more mature Grade 13 students tried to sleep, the Grade 9ers and Grade 10ers spent the night squealing and tipping cots, causing victims to fall on the floor and shriek. Teachers dropped by every hour or so to find out what all the commotion was, but no amount of pleading and threats would quiet the kids down. It was a mad house. At one point, a tough guy named Dennis said: “We should just put our boots on and really go to town.” (Based on the fact that he was already standing there in only his underwear and cowboy boots, I don’t think he meant it literally.) In the end, there was no violence, but neither was there any sleep, and I was too zonked the next day to appreciate Man and His World. … It was much better a month or so later when I hitchhiked back to Montreal and my friend Florent, who worked as a guide at Expo, got me into several pavilions without having to join the long lineups. We simply entered by the exit. I knew Florent from two years earlier when we were exchange student and I stayed with him on a farm in south-shore Varennes. It was my first time away from home on my own and first train ride. And while I have in the years since done much more exotic travel – walking on the Great Wall of China, trekking in Nepal, riding a camel in Morocco, etc. – no trip has ever been as transformative as those two weeks in Varennes. I’ve been a francophile and lover of travel ever since – especially train travel. Expo 67 was a sequel to my magic summer of 1965.

    • What a wonderful story, Jim! Actually, a few wonderful stories intertwined. I have to tell you, that image of your high-school classmate Dennis pronouncing in his underwear and cowboy boots is going to stick with me…

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Oh Jim, you must recount your magic summer of 1965. I was about to enter Grade 12 and was knocked cold by Like a Rolling Stone. To such a degree that to this day I still consider it the best Rock song ever. In 67 I was between freshman and sophomore year and had the incredible opportunity to work in a campground at the foot of Mont St-Hilaire (they sought out bilingual Franco-Americans to service their predominantly Yankee reservations for the summer of Expo.) I hung out with the niece of the owner (Lise was VERY cute). My day off was Wednesday and the owner, the late architect Maurice Robillard, wound lend me his Volkswagon Beetle to drive into Montreal, where I would spend the day at Expo. I ate at every single pavilion, tasting the native dishes. As a boy brought up in a mill town where Sunday pot roast was considered gourmet food, it was quite an experience. I owe my love of food to that summer, my love of music to Sgt. Pepper, my love of Quebec, where I ended up permanently two years later, to Lise, whom I haven’t seen since 67.

  4. I, too, was knocked out by Like a Rolling Stone, although Mr. Tambourine Man (the Dylan version) was, and remains, my absolute favourite song. … Part of the magic of 1965 was my infatuation with Diane, one of my francophone exchange student’s many sisters. When it comes to learning a language, lust is a great motivator. Unfortunately for me, the object of my desire quickly became more interested in a friend of mine. C’est la vie. … Meanwhile, on the second half of my student exchange with Florent, he and his Québécois accent totally charmed all the adolescent females in the Ontario village where I grew up, including my 13-year-old sister. I still have a tape-recording of Florent, with microphone in hand, pretending to be a CBC-type interviewer. Every question he asked was greeted with endless giggling by the young girls. “Whaaaat doooo you doooo when you’re alone?” he asked in overly dramatic fashion in an accent not unlike that of Jean Chrétien. … More giggles. … “You don’t laugh, I hope!” he said in an indignant voice.
    As with you and Lise, I haven’t seen Diane since Expo. I am supposed to hook up with Florent this summer, though. I imagine we’ll have lots to talk about. … My appreciation of more adventurous food than the 1950s small-town Ontario fare I grew up with (and still like) didn’t kick in until I went off to university.

    • Sounds like you and Florent will have a ball reminiscing about “the old days.” good stuff! Meanwhile, Mr. Tambourine Man, yeah… “To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.” Surely one of the best lines ever in a song.

      Sent from my iPhone

  5. Since we’re talking about travel, here are a couple of my favourite quotes about the subject:

    “Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
    ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

    The railroad track is miles away, 

    And the day is loud with voices speaking, 

    Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day 

    But I hear its whistle shrieking.

    All night there isn’t a train goes by, 

    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 

    But I see its cinders red on the sky, 

    And hear its engine steaming.

    My heart is warm with friends I make, 

    And better friends I’ll not be knowing; 

    Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, 

    No matter where it’s going.
    ― Edna St. Vincent Millay, Travel

    • Absolutely lovely, Jim – thanks for posting them. I love Travels With Charley (in which, incidentally, Steinbeck visits one of Raymond’s and my favourite places, Deer Isle/Stonington, Maine). And that Edna St. Vincent Millay poem was a new one to me. As a lover of travel (and trains), it hits home!

      Sent from my iPhone

  6. Yes, Eloise, we did……and we stopped in to see my friends in Ville Jacques Cartier…….we had a blast!!!! I remember the dancing fountains most….OMG, I thought they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my entire life…..colored water dancing with to music……I could have stayed there all evening to watch it! But, I can’t remember not telling my parents….the term “goody two shoes” comes to mind here……I honestly don’t ever remember going against the grain…..just couldn’t do it!!!! LOL

    • Dancing fountains! There were so many cool things like that at Expo, weren’t there? Lu, you must come visit us in Montreal sometime. At the new Quartier des spectacles around Place des Arts there are… dancing fountains! I find them beautiful and mesmerizing. I think you’ll like them!

      Sent from my iPhone

  7. Katherine – I have pictures of going up to Canada and visitiing Expo with my Mom and Dad and with Ron (we called him Ronnie at the time). Someday I will find them and share them at a family gathering. Ron was a brat…(sorry, Ron). Perhaps between Ray and I, we can remember the details of the trip. One thing that always puzzles me…why did Expos end?? Weren’t they worldwide? I must research this…

  8. You all have brought to surface [not a small thing in my advancing age], snippits and still photo memories of al that was, and will forever be, the magic of Centennial Year and Expo 67!!
    I was fortunate enough to have an older brother, who paid for our Mom, myself and his tickets to Expo 67… We still lived on the family farm, just west of Queensborough, and my brother drove us to Montreal, where we were fortunate to have temporary lodgings in Ville St Michel, with my Godparents, who were my Mom’s first cousin & wife…. From there we attended at least 3 days if memory serves me correctly… All the things mentioned above were so magical and wonderful, and yet so much a blur, as they seemed almost too difficult to comprehend and catalogue!!… I felt like Alice who had been thrown down the rabbit hole, and was faced with all sorts of things outside the realm of daily life as I had known it to that point… Even on the trip home, I had to pinch myself several times to confirm it WAS real, and I had seen all those things!!
    Truly a once in a lifetime experience, which could not help but impress, affect and change young lives forever….

    • Ruthanne, I am so pleased that my post helped bring back your own memories of that happy time! I am also envious that you got to spend three whole days at Expo. So much better than my one-day visit. I like your comparison to Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole – that really was what the sights and sounds of Expo felt like to a young person from tiny Queensborough, wasn’t it?

      Another thing I like about your comment is that it confirms that our paths must have crossed once upon a time, if you and I were both in Queensborough in 1967. I hope someday soon our paths will cross again, hopefully in Queensborough where it all began!

  9. Wow, what a trip! Expo was so amazing, you’re right. I recall sitting in our bus, about to leave from the parking lot at Madoc Public School, very early, around 6.00am. One of the kids had a transistor radio, and the big news was that the day before, Priscilla and Elvis were married. What a long ride to Montreal (it was a school bus, not a comfy Greyhound coach). But, we had fun (despite our parents all worrying about problems with Cuba and threats about how someone might set off explosives on the Expo grounds). I can still see those golden Thai pavilions, and the kaleidoscopic pavilion that seemed to change colours as the train passed.

    • Sash, do you by any chance remember the Expo “Caravan” that stopped by Madoc Public School? We Township School kids were bused to see it, but you “town” kids must have been through it as well. I think it was a tractor-trailer car (or two?) filled with highly interactive (for the time) displays about Canadian history. I remember it as quite innovative and thrilling, but of course I was a Queensborough kid and it was 1967, so it’s all relative. Does this ring a Centennial bell?

      • Yes, I most certainly do remember the Centennial Caravan. However, I don’t think it stopped in Madoc. We travelled from Madoc Public School via school bus, to Marmora to see it. I can still remember a section about the war, the blitz in England. I believe it was a tribute to our soldiers, and the exhibit played the sound of sirens. A woman next to me said that part took her back to when she lived in England during the war. I can’t remember a lot of the rest of it, but I do remember going to Marmora to see it, and it was in a lot just west of the main intersection on Hwy. 7.

      • Interesting. In my memory that “caravan” is sitting in the parking lot in front of Madoc Public School – but memory can play tricks on a person. I am pretty sure your Marmora memory is right, Sash. My strongest memory of the caravan is the part about the building of the railway across the country, and the part that mimicked being in a railway car, complete with the sound effects and the platform moving under your feet. I was so impressed!

      • Somewhere, I have a photo of us as we were walking from the Madoc school to the parking lot to board the buses. I can’t imagine why we would have gone to Marmora if it had been in Madoc. My parents also visited it (not part of the school trip), and I remember they drove to Marmora. Unless, it was in both places and for some reason, we had to go to Marmora? Now, I’m wonderin’.

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