It was the swinging 60s. Twiggy was a supermodel – before there even was such a term. Flying was a stylish and sophisticated way for the jet set to get around the world, and man had his sights set even higher with plans to walk on the moon. Everything was, well, groovy, Baby. What better time for Montréal to celebrate Canada’s Centennial and to welcome the world to its man-made vision of an optimistic future: Expo67.
Expo67 is Still Drawing Visitors
Fifty years later, it’s now the summer of 2017, and Montréal is looking back on Expo67’s milestone birthday with several exhibitions happening around town that revisit the event that put the city – and Canada – on the international map for the first time. Some of these look back fondly on the optimism that sparked one of the most successful World Fairs in history; another has a less celebratory view. But both are drawing visitors to experience Expo67 all over again, this time from a new perspective that can only come with time.
McCord Museum: Fashioning Expo67 Exhibit
Nothing screams the 60s quite like fashion, and Canada’s International and Universal Exposition (a.k.a. Expo67), was undoubtedly the world’s largest runway where designers from around the world could showcase their stylish creations, both on the people who came to Expo67, and the staff who worked there. The McCord Museum is showcasing some of these in its retrospective exhibition titled Fashioning Expo67.
The McCord exhibit features a handful of dresses donated by influential visitors who came to the exhibition (over 50 million people came at a time when Canada’s population was only 20 million!), as well as a few examples of jewellery and accessories from the era to help extend the fashion context.
But the majority of the displays are of the uniforms worn by the stylish ‘hostesses’ who staffed all of Expo 67’s pavilions. With 62 countries represented here, every nation wanted their best fashion designers dressing their pavilion’s contingent of ‘brand ambassadors’, so you’ll see designer names that were featured in the top fashion magazines of the day.
Playing Host-ess to the World
Representing not just Canada, but the world itself, the hostesses for Expo67 had to be both stylish and well-informed, so that they could act as welcoming guides for guests. Recruited months in advance, these attractive young women were trained in everything from the architecture of the structures in which they worked (many of which were cutting-edge), to the most graceful way to remove the jacket that matched their ensemble.
TIP: Be sure to pick up a free audio guide at the entrance to the exhibit as it features recordings of some of the women who worked at Expo67, all of whom had nothing but wonderful things to say about their experience.
A Half-Full Glass View of the World
One of the most charming pieces in the Fashioning Expo67 exhibit is a film that shows archival footage of some of the highlights of the Exhibition, including crowds of smiling people, the space-age monorail gliding around the complex, and glimpses of the most iconic pavilions. The shapes of these pavilions are imprinted on the memory of anyone who visited the site, like the inverted triangle that was the Canada Pavilion, or the geodesic globe that was the U.S. Pavilion. Even though I was only 6 at the time of Expo67, and never actually visited the site until 2 years later when it was called Man and his World, I can still see these silhouettes in my mind’s eye.
There’s something so optimistic, so idealistic and so positive about man’s vision of his future represented in this film, that you can’t help but feel a little less jaded about the state of the world we live in.
For a special ‘stroll down memory lane’, check out this video of archival footage
from Expo 67.
Sherbrooke Street’s Open-Air MuseumAnother installation inspired by the global optimism of Expo67 is happening right on the streets of Montréal – on Sherbrooke Street, to be exact. Created and organized by Montréal’s Museum of Fine Arts, this exhibition of 67 outdoor works of art celebrates the humanism, openness and tolerance that characterized Expo67 fifty years ago. Photographs and sculptures line both sides of the street, along with flag/banners from every Canadian province and over 200 other countries, creating a colourful, playful path around which you can explore the art.
TIP: You can see the Sherbrooke Street artworks until October 2, 2017.
And then there’s the Half-Empty Glass
Not every art exhibit related to Expo67 is so bright and cheerful. Montréal’s Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting In Search of Expo67, an exhibit featuring 19 works by contemporary Canadian artists, none of whom were even born at the time of Expo67. The artists use architecture, video, light and sound as the bases for their creative expression, and the diversity in their work reflects the same creative freedom as the original visionaries of Expo67.
But personally, I found that many of these modern works lacked the optimism and positivity of the 60s, and I had trouble embracing the dystopian vision in some of the pieces. Maybe I’m just being idealistic, or maybe I have my head firmly planted in the sand, but I prefer to cling to the original idea of the future that Expo67 envisioned. Even if we aren’t all riding around on monorails.
TIP: In Search of Expo 67 runs until October 9. 2017.
Wishful ThinkingAfter seeing some of these nostalgic retrospectives of Expo67 in Montréal, I couldn’t help but wish that I had been a few years older than the 6 year-old I was during that summer of ’67 – maybe even old enough to have been an Expo67 hostess. I can imagine myself waving my white-gloved hands at the smiling visitors coming to view my pavilion, and welcoming the world to our country and our hopeful future.
(Then again, all this wishful thinking would mean I would be even more ‘grown-up’ than I am now, so… never mind!)
Special thanks to Tourisme, who hosted me on my visit and provided access to these exhibitions. Montréal