OTD: Lester Pearson lights flame to open Expo 67

On today’s date in 1967, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson lit “the Expo flame” to open the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, now commonly referred to as Expo 67, in Montréal, Que.

A story published by the Toronto Daily Star the next day explained how a “series of minor snafus kept the crowd of VIPs in a state of seat-edge nervousness throughout the ceremony, which had to run strictly to schedule because it was being televised by satellite to Europe.”

“Speeches ran overtime, Pearson had to make two attempts to light the Expo flame, the British Union Jack was raised upside down—a signal of distress—and Michener got the fair opened two minutes too soon.”

Other areas of concern included “the continuing threat of a walkout by security guards and a scheduled student demonstration against the Viet Nam war that could bring quick, repressive police action.”

About 300 of the 1,000 security guards at Expo 67 left their post on April 27, 1967, demanding higher pay. They were persuaded to return, but there were rumours of another group of 150 guards staging a separate walkout in the days to come.

“The guards get $2.35 an hour and are due for a 12-cent raise May 1,” reads the Star story.

9:30 P.M. OPENING

For an hour prior to the gates’ scheduled opening time of 9:30 p.m., lines of visitors were waiting for an atomic clock to complete its four-year countdown.

“Some 120,000 are expected to pass through the turnstiles by the time the gates close again at 2:30 a.m. tomorrow—about 8,000 more than made the first-day scene at last year’s Canadian National Exhibition,” reads the April 28 Star story.

“This is a proud day for Montreal, for Quebec and above all for Canada,” said Pearson at the opening ceremonies. “We are witnesses today to the fulfilment of one of the most daring acts of faith in Canadian enterprise and ability ever undertaken. That faith was not misplaced.

“But Expo is much more than a great Canadian achievement of design and planning and construction. It is also a monument to man. It tells the exciting and inspiring story of a world that belongs not to any one nation but to every nation.

“No theme could have been more fitting for our times than ‘Man and His World’. Here in Expo we have one of the most impressive collections of Man’s works and Man’s ideas ever brought together.

“Today we pay our tribute to the dedication and the effort of many men and women that have made all this possible. Montreal has proven its capacity to carry through such an undertaking and its Mayor has shown the inspired and dynamic leadership which was essential.”

The token’s obverse features the Expo 67 logo atop the words ‘expo67 / MONTREAL / CANADA.’

EXPO 67 TOKENS

In 1967, several tokens were struck to commemorate Expo 67’s various pavilions – 90 of them in total – which represented the nations, corporations and industries of the world. Each pavilion was built by the participating nations, leading to numerous incredible architectural designs, the influence of which spanned the globe.

Consisting of several white-roofed buildings surrounding a towering inverted pyramid made of metal, the Canada pavilion was the largest at Expo 67. The central structure—an inverted pyramid called Katimavik, which means “meeting place” in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit—gave a crystalline effect that was symbolic of the minerals and metals of Canada.

The U.S. pavilion was a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. It was commemorated on a token with a weight of 18.8 grams and a diameter of 36.5 mm. The obverse features the Expo 67 logo atop the words “expo67 / MONTREAL / CANADA.” The reverse features the geodesic dome with the words “PAVILLON DES ETATS UNIS” above and “UNITED STATES PAVILION” below.

The Canadian pavilion’s inverted pyramid (shown above) is lit up at night.

Expo 67 is considered a landmark moment in Canadian history with its impact told through the host city’s Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos, which were named in 1968, one year after the exposition.

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