The idea of hosting the 1967 World Exhibition dates back to 1956, but it was in 1958 that Conservative Senator Mark Drouin suggested during his speech at the Brussels Exhibition that Canada should host a World Exhibition to celebrate its centennial. The exposition was offered first to Toronto but politicians there rejected the idea. However, Montreal's mayor, Sarto Fournier, backed the proposal, allowing Canada to make a bid to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). At the BIE's May 5, 1960 meeting in Paris, Moscow was awarded the fair after five rounds of voting that eliminated Austria's and then Canada's bids. In April 1962, the Soviets scrapped plans to host the fair because of financial constraints and security concerns. Montreal's new mayor, Jean Drapeau, lobbied the Canadian government to try again for the fair, which they did. On November 13, 1962, the BIE changed the location of the World Exhibition to Canada, and Expo 67 went on to become the fourth-best attended BIE-sanctioned world expositions, after Shanghai, Osaka, and Paris.
Several sites were proposed as the main Expo grounds. One location that was considered was Mount Royal Park, to the north of the downtown core. But it was Drapeau's idea to create new islands in the St. Lawrence river, and to enlarge the existing Saint Helen's Island. The choice overcame opposition from Montreal's surrounding municipalities, and also prevented land speculation.
The Expo 67 site on Notre Dame Island with the Canada, Quebec
and Ontario pavilions in view
Expo did not get off to a smooth start; in 1963, many top organizing committee officials resigned. The main reason for the resignations was Mayor Drapeau's choice of the site on new islands to be created around the existing St. Helen's Island and also that a computer program predicted that the event could not possibly be constructed in time. Another more likely reason for the mass resignations was that on April 22, 1963, the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson took power. This meant that former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservative government appointees to the board of directors of the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition were likely forced to resign.
Canadian diplomat Pierre Dupuy was named Commissioner General, after Diefenbaker appointee Paul Bienvenu resigned from the post in 1963. One of the main responsibilities of the Commissioner General was to attract other nations to build pavilions at Expo. Dupuy would spend most of 1964 and 1965 soliciting 125 countries, spending more time abroad than in Canada. Dupuy's 'right-hand' man was Robert Fletcher Shaw, the deputy commissioner general and vice-president of the corporation. He also replaced a Diefenbaker appointee, C.F. Carsley, Deputy Commissioner General. Shaw was a professional engineer and builder, and is widely credited for the total building of the Exhibition. Dupuy hired Andrew Kniewasser as the general manager. The management group became known as Les Durs—the tough guys—and they were in charge of creating, building and managing Expo. Les Durs consisted of: Jean-Claude Delorme, Legal Counsel and Secretary of the Corporation; Dale Rediker, Director of Finances; Colonel Edward Churchill, Director of Installations; Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, Director of Operations, dubbed "The Mayor of Expo"; Pierre de Bellefeuille, Director of Exhibitors; and Yves Jasmin, Director of Information, Advertising and Public Relations. To this group the chief architect Édouard Fiset was added. All ten were honoured by the Canadian government as recipients of the Order of Canada, Companions for Dupuy and Shaw, Officers for the others.
Jasmin wrote a book, in French, La petite histoire d'Expo 67, about his 45-month experience at Expo and created the Expo 67 Foundation (available on the web site under that name) to commemorate the event for future generations.
As historian Pierre Berton put it, the cooperation between Canada's French- and English-speaking communities "was the secret of Expo's success — 'the Québécois flair, the English-Canadian pragmatism.'" However, Berton also points out that this is an over-simplification of national stereotypes. Arguably Expo did, for a short period anyway, bridge the 'Two Solitudes.'
Montebello conference produces theme
In May 1963, a group of prominent Canadian thinkers—including Alan Jarvis, director of the National Gallery of Canada; novelists Hugh MacLennan and Gabrielle Roy; J. Tuzo Wilson, geophysicist; and Claude Robillard, town planner—met for three days at the Seigneury Club in Montebello, Quebec. The theme, "Man and His World", was based on the 1939 book entitled Terre des Hommes (translated as Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In Roy's introduction to the Expo 67 corporation's book, entitled Terre des Hommes/Man and His World, she elucidates the theme:
In Terre des Hommes, his haunting book, so filled with dreams and hopes for the future, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes of how deeply moved he was when, flying for the first time by night alone over Argentina, he happened to notice a few flickering lights scattered below him across an almost empty plain. They "twinkled here and there, alone like stars...." In truth, being made aware of our own solitude can give us insight into the solitude of others. It can even cause us to gravitate towards one another as if to lessen our distress. Without this inevitable solitude, would there be any fusion at all, any tenderness between human beings.
Moved as he was by a heightened awareness of the solitude of all creation and by the human need for solidarity, Saint-Exupéry found a phrase to express his anguish and his hope that was as simple as it was rich in meaning; and because that phrase was chosen many years later to be the governing idea of Expo 67, a group of people from all walks of life was invited by the Corporation to reflect upon it and to see how it could be given tangible form.
The organizers also created seventeen theme elements for Man and his World:
- Du Pont Auditorium of Canada: The philosophy and scientific content of theme exhibits were presented and emphasized in this 372 seat hall.
- Habitat 67
- Man and his Health
- Man in the Community
- Man the Explorer: Man, his Planet and Space; Man and Life; Man and the Oceans; Man and the Polar Regions
- Man the Creator: The Gallery of Fine Arts; Contemporary Sculpture; Industrial Design; Photography.
- Man the Producer: Resources for Man; Man in Control; Progress.
- Man the Provider
Construction started on August 13, 1963, with an elaborate ceremony hosted by Mayor Drapeau on barges anchored in the St. Lawrence River. Ceremonially, construction began when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson pulled a lever that signalled a front-end loader to dump the first batch of fill to enlarge Saint Helen's Island,[Note 1] and Quebec premier Jean Lesage spread the fill with a bulldozer. Of the 25 million tons of fill needed to construct the islands, 10-12% was coming from the Montreal Metro's excavations, a public works project that was already under construction before Expo was awarded to Montreal. The remainder of the fill came from quarries on Montreal and the South Shore, however even with that it was insufficient and so bodies of water on both islands were added (lakes and canals) to reduce the amount of fill required. Expo's initial construction period mainly centered on enlarging Saint Helen's Island, creating the artificial island of Notre Dame Island and lengthening and enlarging the Mackay Pier which became the Cité du Havre. While construction continued, the land rising out of Montreal harbour was not owned by the Expo Corporation yet. After the final mounds of earth completed the islands, the grounds that would hold the fair were officially transferred from the City of Montreal to the corporation on June 20, 1964. This gave Colonel Churchill only 1042 days to have everything built and functioning for opening day. To get Expo built in time, Churchill used the then new project management tool known as the critical path method (CPM). On April 28, 1967, opening day, everything was ready, with one exception: Habitat 67, which was then displayed as a work in progress.
Building and enlarging the islands, along with the new Concorde Bridge built to connect them with the site-specific mass transit system known as the Montreal Expo Express, plus a boat pier, cost more than the Saint Lawrence Seaway project did only five years earlier: this was even before any buildings or infrastructure were constructed. With the initial phase of construction completed, it is easy to see why the budget for the exhibition was going to be larger than anyone expected. In the fall of 1963, Expo's general manager, Andrew Kniewasser, presented the master plan and the preliminary budget of $167 million for construction: it would balloon to over $439 million by 1967. The plan and budget narrowly passed a vote in Pearson's federal cabinet, passing by one vote, and then it was officially submitted on December 23, 1963.
The logo was designed by Montreal artist Julien Hébert. The basic unit of the logo is an ancient symbol of man. Two of the symbols (pictograms of "man") are linked as to represent friendship. The icon was repeated in a circular arrangement to represent "friendship around the world". The logotype is lower-case Optima font. It did not enjoy unanimous support from federal politicians, as some of them tried to kill it with a motion in the House of Commons of Canada.
The official Expo 67 theme song was composed by Stéphane Venne and was titled: "Hey Friend, Say Friend/Un Jour, Un Jour". Complaints were made about the suitability of the song, as its lyrics mentioned neither Montreal nor Expo 67. The song was selected from an international competition with over 2,200 entries from 35 countries.
However, the song that most Canadians associate with Expo was written by Bobby Gimby, a veteran commercial jingle writer who composed the popular Centennial tune "Ca-na-da". Gimby earned the name the "Pied Piper of Canada".
The theme song "Something to Sing About", used for the Canadian pavilion, had been written for a 1963 television special. The Ontario pavilion also had its own theme song: "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow", which has evolved to become an unofficial theme song for the province.
Official opening ceremonies were held on Thursday afternoon, April 27, 1967. The ceremonies were an invitation-only event, held at Place des Nations. Canada's Governor General, Roland Michener, proclaimed the exhibition open after the Expo flame was ignited by Prime Minister Pearson. On hand were over 7,000 media and invited guests including 53 heads of state. Over 1,000 reporters covered the event, broadcast in NTSC Colour, live via satellite, to a worldwide audience of over 700 million viewers and listeners.[Note 2]
Expo 67 opened to the public on the morning of Friday, April 28, 1967, with a space age-style countdown. A capacity crowd at Place d'Accueil participated in the atomic clock-controlled countdown that ended when the exhibition opened precisely at 9:30 a.m. EST. An estimated crowd of between 310,000 and 335,000 visitors showed up for opening day, as opposed to the expected crowd of 200,000. The first person through the Expo gates at Place d'Accueil was Al Carter, a 41-year-old jazz drummer from Chicago, who was recognized for his accomplishment by Expo 67's director of operations Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien. Beaubien presented Carter with a gold watch for his feat.
On opening day, there was considerable comment on the uniform of the hostesses from the UK Pavilion. The dresses had been designed to the then-new miniskirt style, popularized a year earlier by Mary Quant.
In conjunction with the opening of Expo 67, the Canadian Post Office Department issued a 5¢ stamp commemorating the fair, designed by Harvey Thomas Prosser.
Entertainment, Ed Sullivan Show, and VIPs
The World Festival of Art and Entertainment at Expo 67 featured art galleries, opera, ballet and theatre companies, orchestras, jazz groups, famous Canadian pop musicians and other cultural attractions. Many pavilions had music and performance stages, where visitors could find free concerts and shows. Most of the featured entertainment took place in the following venues: Place des Arts, Expo Theatre, Place des Nations, La Ronde, and Automotive Stadium.
The La Ronde amusement park was always intended to be a lasting legacy of the fair. Most of its rides and booths were permanent. When the Expo fairgrounds closed nightly, at around 10:00 p.m., visitors could still visit La Ronde, which closed at 2:30 a.m.
In addition, The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast live on May 7 and 21 from Expo 67. Stars on the shows included America's The Supremes, Britain's Petula Clark and Australia's The Seekers.
Another attraction was the Canadian Armed Forces Tattoo 1967 at the Autostade in Montreal.
The fair was visited by many of the most notable people at the time, including Canada's monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon B. Johnson, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie, Charles de Gaulle, Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Maurice Chevalier, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Marlene Dietrich. Musicians like Thelonious Monk, Grateful Dead, Tiny Tim, The Tokens and Jefferson Airplane entertained the crowds.
Despite its successes, there were problems: Front de libération du Québec militants had threatened to disrupt the exhibition, but were inactive during this period. Vietnam war protesters picketed during the opening day, April 28. American President Lyndon B. Johnson's visit became a focus of war protesters. Threats that the Cuba pavilion would be destroyed by anti-Castro forces were not carried out. In June, the Arab–Israeli conflict in the Middle East flared up again in the Six-Day War, which resulted in Kuwait pulling out of the fair in protest to the way Western nations dealt with the war. The president of France, Charles De Gaulle, caused an international incident on July 24 when he addressed thousands at Montreal City Hall by yelling out the now famous words "Vive Montréal... Vive le Québec... Vive le Québec Libre!" 
In September, the most serious problem turned out to be a 30-day transit strike. By the end of July, estimates predicted that Expo would exceed 60 million visitors, but the strike cut deeply into attendance and revenue figures, just as the fair was cruising to its conclusion. Another major problem, beyond the control of Expo's management, was guest accommodation and lodging. Logexpo was created to direct visitors to accommodations in the Montreal area, which usually meant that visitors would stay at the homes of people they were unfamiliar with, rather than traditional hotels or motels. The Montreal populace opened their homes to thousands of guests. Unfortunately for some visitors, they were sometimes sent to less than respectable establishments where operators took full advantage of the tourist trade. Management of Logexpo was refused to Expo and was managed by a Quebec provincial authority. Still, Expo would get most of the blame for directing visitors to these establishments. But overall, a visit to Expo from outside Montreal was still seen as a bargain.
Site map of Expo 67, highlighting 20 of the 90 pavilions
Expo 67 closed on Sunday afternoon, October 29, 1967. The fair had been scheduled to close two days earlier, however a two-day extension granted by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) allowed it to continue over the weekend. On the final day 221,554 visitors added to the more than 50 million (50,306,648) that attended Expo 67 at a time when Canada's population was only 20 million, setting a per-capita record for World Exhibition attendance that still stands.
Starting at 2:00 p.m., Expo Commissioner General Pierre Dupuy officiated over the medal ceremony, in which participating nations and organizations received gold and silver medallions, and over the ceremony in which national flags were lowered in the reverse order to which they had been raised, with Canada's flag lowered first and Nigeria's lowered last. After Prime Minister Pearson doused the Expo flame, Governor General Roland Michener closed Expo at Place des Nations with the mournful spontaneous farewell: "It is with great regret that I declare that the Universal and International Exhibition of 1967 has come to an official end." All rides and the minirail were shut down by 3:50 p.m., and the Expo grounds closed at 4:00 p.m., with the last Expo Express train leaving for Place d'Accueil at that time. A fireworks display, that went on for an hour, was Expo's concluding event.
Expo performed better financially than expected. Expo was intended to have a deficit, shared between the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Significantly better-than-expected attendance revenue reduced the debt to well below the original estimates. The final financial statistics, in 1967 Canadian dollars, were: revenues of $221,239,872, costs of $431,904,683, and a deficit of $210,664,811.