It is the unexpected things that happen to you while traveling that make certain trips special. Such was the case for me this past week as Mary Lou and I arrived in Montreal, Canada for a few days prior to departing on a cruise down the St. Lawrence Seaway.
One of the biggest events in Montreal’s long history was the World’s Fair held in 1967 known as Expo 67. It has been 50 years since my grandparents took my brother, Ernest, my first cousin, Bob Byrd, and myself on an extraordinary journey to that world’s fair.
The very first thing ML and I visited upon our arrival was an exhibition at the Museum of History celebrating that fair 50 years ago and the many ways it changed the youth of the time, particularly in Canada. The exhibition featured old 8mm tapes and photographs that jogged my memory at every turn.
In the Summer of 1967, I was about to enter the eighth grade. My cousin was a year older than me, while my brother was three grades behind me. I asked each of them for the memory that first came to their mind about Expo 67.
Bob recalled how it was such a carefree time in our lives. We had no worries and were traveling together just having fun. Upon seeing Expo 67, and particularly the Biosphere, as the United States exhibition was called, Bob recalled thinking he could live there forever.
Ernest recalled us riding in a pickup truck with a shell on the back in lawn chairs that had been cut down to give us more headroom. There was carpet on the floor and we played games all the way there and back. He also recalled the high prices for food and how our Grandfather limited us to just a hamburger, no fries, when he first saw the price of a meal.
As for me, I remember being in awe of the many different countries and cultures that were on display. Russia had a large exhibition as did China. Even Cuba, which was not even a decade past Castro’s revolution, had a building and exhibit. There were 90 pavilions in all, including the national exhibitions and the commercial displays.
There was a tent like village that was shared by many different African nations, exposing me to things that I had never seen or imagined outside of a book. I ate different foods, saw different native dress, and heard different languages. It was my first realization at how different people were and yet how we also appeared to be the same.
Kodak had one of the largest commercial pavilions that showcased the cutting edge technology of the film company at the time. Of course, today film technology is almost obsolete as a way of capturing images.The Kodak Instamatic was the camera of choice for almost everyone.
The museum exhibition showcased some predictions for the future. One prediction was that our watches would one day have a lens and you would be able to communicate through your watch. I looked down at my Apple Watch and marveled at how accurate some of the predictions were.
It was a turbulent time around the world. The Vietnam War was well underway and protests had already erupted in the United States. Czechoslovakia was about to be invaded by the USSR. Quebec was beginning to fight to be independent of Canada. France was about to have crippling general strikes and demonstrations against capitalism and traditional values.
Yet, for one Summer, 50 million people came together from around the world to showcase their differences while celebrating their common goals and values. Expo 67 planted seeds in the minds of young people around the world that things could be different than the world they had always known.
There was such a seed planted in me during that trip, though I did not realize if for many years. Expo 67 planted in me the seed of curiosity about the world that has flourished for these past 50 years. I still want to see what I have not seen. I want to experience the way that people live that are different than me. I want to taste their food, drink their beverage, hear their music and view their culture.
My grandparents and my parents wanted to see the world. They instilled that love in me and I first experienced if for myself 50 years ago in Montreal. What an incredible gift they gave me.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]