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Irv Gleaner

Expo 67 - Boy Was It Ever Crowded

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These photos are not the greatest quality, but they have some nice overall shots of the Expo.  What strikes me are the crowds in every photograph.  

What did Expo do that NY didn't to draw in these record numbers of people?

Two of the photos are of me at the time when I was 21 years old.  I included them here as the backgrounds are still interesting.  

 

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Could it be that Expo's grounds were more compact so there was less space for every thousand people.... making it look more crowded?  There is no doubt that Expo got more turnstile spins in a single year, while New York visitors (particularly those from out of town) had the luxury of being able to choose which of the two years they might want to attend, so overall attendance at New York was higher.

 

I also think that New York might have got the appetite of those in the northeast region whetted for another World's Fair just two years later.  Would Expo have attracted such big numbers if New York hadn't primed the pump first?  We'll never know. :)

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After visiting the NY Fair just 2 years before, I was quite anxious and excited to travel to another world's fair within driving distance of my home in Philadelphia.

However, aside from the architectural beauty, gorgeous landscaping and scenic location of Expo 67, I was disappointed in the fact  that they had no ride through pavilions, which were the highlight of my NY experience.  Personally, I most enjoyed the big industrial buildings at NY and paid very little attention to the foreign countries.  Maybe because I was only 21 years old at the time, but the technological wizardry is what did it for me.  

At Expo, the majority of the exhibitors were foreign nations, which although interesting, were no more than walk through small museum style exhibits highlighting their country's attributes.  

Sure Expo was big, beautiful and well presented.  It just didn't have the jaw dropping technical flair that was so evident in New York.

 

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Expo 67 clobbered NY in attendance because its purpose was more precise and clearer to those who decided to attend.

NY modeled its second fair too closely on the 1939 Fair which failed to reach predicted attendance of fifty million in 1939.  The 1964 fair even used the same layout on the same grounds but with half the original acreage but it fell far short of the 70 million the Fair Corporation predicted.  Both Fairs ended up paying investors about forty cents on the dollar.  The absolute certainty of both Fair Corporations as to attendance numbers and profits is still astounding today.  If the 1964-65 NYWF somehow sparked some sort of appetite of Northeastern Americans for a second great fair, then how sad for NY because where were the extra 20 million needed to meet NY's own predictions?  They didn't show up.

Expo didn't just "look" more crowded.  It was more crowded and considering it was nearly twice the geographic size of the NYWF (over 1,000 acres) those crowds were real and impressive.

Expo's 50.3 million visitors in six months in a nation of 20 million people is incredible and remains a per capita world's fair attendance record today.  NY's 51 million over two years doesn't compare especially when considering its own 70 million prediction.  Expo organizers hoped for 12 to 15 million in one season.  Their own expectations were absolutely shattered by the crowds which flooded the grounds day after day.  Even primitive computer predictions in 1963 indicated Expo would never be built on time and would be fortunate to attract 12 million if it actually did open. It attracted that many in its first month.  And Expo still holds the all time one day international exposition attendance record of 570 thousand (April 30, 1967).

Two very different expositions.  I loved NY but the international stuff was lame.  Most international pavilions I saw were restaurants with gift shops and a number of news articles said the same thing in 1964..  It was an elaborate industrial show and it was fun but it just never captured the imagination of the numbers it hoped to attract.  In addition, the brutally critical press that hammered Moses, the lack of architectural theme (as the 1939 fair had), the surprisingly low attendance numbers and the impending financial disaster did not help the NYWF in 1965 one bit.  A number of magazines (Time and Look) even wondered aloud, between the seasons, if the 1965 fair would even open.

The day I arrived in Montreal in 1967 with my school group, that city was bedecked with blue and white Expo flags.  The logo was everywhere.  The city was electric and focused on that exposition glittering on those remarkable islands.  Expo celebrated Canada's centennial and that did capture the imagination of Canadians, of course, and of millions of Americans.  Montreal schools closed for the opening day and the final Friday of Expo.  People wanted to be there.  Canadian press celebrated Expo over and over.  

Even US television shows broadcast from Expo.  I can still hear Ed Sullivan's voice telling Americans "you have to get up here and see this fair."  He had two live broadcasts from Expo.

I understand Irv's comments about NY's technical flair, but Labyrinth, the Bell Canada 360 degree theatre and Kaleidoscope rivaled anything the US corporations offered even if one had to stand or walk through.  And Expo let 50 million see the superpower showdown with the massive USA and USSR pavilions.  I loved those international pavilions, the stunning architecture and, evidently, millions of others did as well.  

Several weeks ago, the Quebec Ministry of Culture declared Expo 67 "a major historic event" that should be taught as a vital part of Canadian history.  NYS has never done that for either fair.  New York State, over fifty years, hasn't even seen fit to salvage its own deteriorating 1964 pavilion and it never will.

Irv, your photos are wonderful.  Thank you for sharing them with us.

 

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Not to quibble, but...

" Expo still holds the all time one day international exposition attendance record of 570 thousand (April 30, 1967)."

From ExpoMuseum.com:

"China's first world's fair and the largest in history by size, attendance, and international participants, Expo 2010 even saw the largest world's fair attendance in a single day: over one million on 16 October 2010. Expo 2010 broke the record for area previously held by the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the record for attendance previously held by Expo 70."

Also, I know that one of the days I was at Expo 2010 had an attendance of 630,000. 

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As Jim mentioned,  Labyrinth, the Bell Canada 360 degree theater and Kaleidoscope rivaled anything the US corporations offered even if one had to stand or walk through.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of these attractions as the lines were way too long.  This fair was really crowded!

I still preferred the ride-through exhibits at New York, both for their technology and their ability to move crowds.  Dark ride attractions were a relatively new concept, especially if you had never been to a Disney type park up to that time.  The idea of just sitting down in an air conditioned environment and gliding through a building with stereo narration, even for just a few minutes, was a welcome treat after standing in long lines in the summer heat.

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I stand corrected.  That single day attendance record stood until 2010.  

What was that single day attendance record set in St.Louis, however?  Opening day was about 187,000 (178,000 paid) with a total of 19.6 million.  What was the single day record that was set?  What were the numbers?  It's difficult believe it surpassed 570,000 in 1904.  I cannot find any reference to it.

Irv, I'm sorry you missed those pavilions.  They have remained in my memory for fifty years.  Nevertheless, your photos are very cool.  It appears you have some very good Expo memories.

 

PS:  Any chance you still have that shirt and those shades?  You were looking pretty cool back in the day. 

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Expo might still have the record for *paid* admissions.

In 2010 we heard that Shanghai bussed in massive numbers of people that day simply to break the record.  It doesn't necessarily reflect a particular extraordinary interest by residents of the Asian continent in attending an International Exposition.  It reflects the determination of a totalitarian regime to market itself.

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I remember that story from 2010. At the time, I figured it was China's way to simply shatter records as the exposition came to an end and that's what happened.  If there was some sort of Exposition Hall of Fame, Shanghai's attendance numbers would probably merit an asterisk.

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Thank you, Bill.  Your words mean a great deal to me.  And I just really looked at Irv's final photograph--the shot taken from the USSR pavilion over the massive hammer and sickle monument in front of the building and down Ile Notre Dame.  That's a wonderful shot and one that I've never seen prior to this.  If that could be cleaned up a bit, it would be a treasure.  I really like Irv's photos because they are so in the moment, so real.  I am very grateful he shared them with us.

Thinking about the NYWF and Expo 67 I believe there is another important distinction; leadership.  While the NYWF leadership was fraught with contention and Robert Moses was a political lightening rod, Expo's leaders were remarkably efficient and highly regarded in both the Francophone and Anglopone communities.  Pierre Dupuy as Commissioner General charmed over sixty nations into participating.  He appointed Robert Fletcher Shaw as deputy commissioner.  An engineer by trade, his leadership helped determine Expo's architectural design and he met all of the almost impossible construction deadlines.  The leadership names are proof that a bridge between French and English Quebec was built;  Edward Churchill, Yves Jasmin, Dale Rediker and Philipe de Gaspe Bueaubien.  These men and others were dubbed by the press as Les Durs (The Tough Guys).  And then there was Jean Drapeau, Montreal's dynamic and visionary mayor who dreamed big when it came to Montreal's debut on the global stage.  His dream was to create those islands and build a fair nobody would ever forget.  The 2017 film, Expo 67 Mission Impossible, is aptly named simply because this cooperative team did what few believed could ever be accomplished. 

 

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I do believe there was a purge or other exodus of some of the early Expo leaders, but they eventually started working together unlike in NY.

Hope you enjoy this one, Jim.

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I think that in the end, the 1964-65 NYWF was more of an American Fair, due to the BIE boycott. Although it holds a special place for those who attended and got the first taste of Disneyland-style dark rides (or more accurately, EPCOT Center-style dark rides), the international visitors didn't want to come to see a very US-centric fair.  That could account for  much of the attendance miss. 

I'd also imagine that the construction and operation costs were much higher than anticipated, as always happens for any construction project with a fixed timeline in the northeast, leading to the financial crisis. I haven't seen if Expo 67 had similar budget overruns, but it didn't look like they were struggling with half-finished pavilions at opening.

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You are correct, Bill.  The changes came when Prime Minister Lester Pearson formed a Liberal government in the Spring of 1963.  Former Expo appointees (appointed by PM John Diefenbaker) resigned from the project.  Mr. Pearson appointed Pierre Dupuy as Commissioner General and he made the appointments I listed in the previous post.  They were his successful team.

Beautiful photo and I can clearly see the pavilion of Thailand off to the left.  The information booth just to the right is very cool.  I remember those booths.

Hi Speedwell, you are correct that Expo did not struggle with half finished pavilions.  One news story in the late winter of 1967 cited Pierre Dupuy threatening to bulldoze the Mexican pavilion into the St. Lawrence River if it continued to fall behind construction deadlines.  It was completed and open just a day or so after Expo opened its gates.

 

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