Monday, 2 January 2012

Expo '86

Vancouver, B.C., Canada was incorporated in the year 1886. At that time there existed the hamlets of Hastings Mill, Granville (also known as 'Gastown') and, one or two others while the settlements at Victoria (on Vancouver Island) and New Westminster (on the Fraser River) were thriving towns already. However, it was not long before the newly created location would blossom to become the metropolis that it is now. The incorporation in 1886 helped to spur that development.

To celebrate the centennial, the City Fathers opted for an International Exposition with the theme being the development of communications. In 1962 there had been an exposition in Seattle and, of course, in Montreal in 1967. While the one in Vancouver was larger than the one in Seattle had been, it was not as large as Expo 67. Yet, after a rather shaky start, it was an overwhelming success with attendance at well over 1,000,000 people.

For those of us living in Vancouver and environs, we had the opportunity of purchasing a season's pass which allowed us unlimited access to the grounds. My first trip to Expo was only a few days after the official opening and was followed by many others. I fell in love with the experience upon my very first visit.

I do not remember now how many countries exhibited but there were many - as well as most of the Canadian Provinces and a number of the States in the Union.

What did I love best at Expo? I really do not know - I loved almost all of it.

I loved the pavilion installed by Peru. Yes, there was the nod to modern communications but the big draw was the display of Incan artifacts - and especially those exhibiting sexual mores. I loved it when I found myself walking behind staid middle class farm folk when they came upon the so obviously phallic exhibits!

I loved the B.C. Pavilion with the IMAX film showing B.C. scenery - and, especially, the scenes of skiing and whitewater rafting. If one was seated in the middle of the auditorium there was a great sense of one's body moving to the rhythm of what was being depicted.

The Expo grounds extended for more than a mile along the north shore of False Creek and there were two methods of transportation around the grounds - small ferries along the shoreline and a monorail which made frequent stops. I took Mom to the Expo one day and, on the ferry, a lady sitting next to Mom asked her if she was from Vancouver? Mom's response was, "No - I am from Burnaby!" Burnaby is an adjacent suburb to the east side of the city proper. I tried to explain to Mom afterwards that suburban Burnaby would mean nothing to out-of-town folk. I got no where with that!

A local Ministerial Association brokered a deal with the Expo board that allowed various denominations to sponsor a Sunday service each week and in the stadium used by the RCMP Musical Ride. Various churches were invited to ask for an invitation so one of the members of MCC-Vancouver asked on our behalf - but did not even get a reply let alone an invitation. However, just in case, the Rev Elder Troy Perry and his partner, Phillip, scheduled a visit and I hosted them on their tour of the grounds and that was a hoot!

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a good-sized pavilion which we visited. Troy was convinced that he was 'cruised' by one of the young male staff members which, as Saudi Arabia is notorious for being homophobic, was an irony.

Twice each day a contingent of officers from the RCMP put their horses through the paces of The Musical Ride. I watched more than once and it is a breathtaking spectacle.

Most of the Canadian Provinces sponsored pavilions and, in some of them, local artists displayed their craft. I was most impressed by the music of Connie Kaldar from Saskatchewan and Men of the Deep from Cape Breton. The latter is an all male chorus made up of miners from that island. They were magnificent - but then, I am a sucker for male choruses!

Rita McNeil performed as well but I missed seeing her. However, her appearance at Expo 86 accelerated her concert and TV appearances and I did get to watch her perform on the tube many times.

Speaking of entertainment, there was a tent where international stars performed for those who had special tickets. Those tickets were out of the range of my budget but I was walking around the grounds while Liberace was performing and I did hear him creating his music.

This was the only International Expo that I have experienced, however I have attended annual fairs (Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver and Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto), I believe that I was born with sawdust between my toes.

Those visiting Vancouver now would see no hint of how the City looked before Expo 86.

For instance - the south shore of False Creek was lined with lumber mills and the like. Now it is a neighborhood of spiffy condos and marinas. At the same time, the north shore was an area of warehouses and now is the trendy neighborhood known as Yaletown.

Expo 86 lasted for six months but its impact upon the City is ongoing.

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