Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Robert Fulford and I were sitting having an agreeable time at one of the many parties before Expo 67 opened when he suddenly jumped on the table.
A lot of strange things happened at that wonderful fair but we were experienced journalists and I wondered what had got into him. After all, it was still early, and Expo's press parties ended with some under the table, not standing on them.
Fulford yelled down that some idiot had just walked in with a very large tiger on a very small leash. "I'm sure it's tame, " I observed, but we decided to leave if the tiger didn't. After all, free drinks were plentiful.
That was the first thing I remembered when I read Fulford's Notebook in the National Post. He was reviewing what he called an "often engaging collection" of articles by academics on our centennial party titled Expo 67: Not Just A Souvenir.
Fulford brings credentials to judge such a book. He spent months covering Expo for the Toronto Star and wrote a book about the international exposition. Yet that really doesn't matter because he is one of the few writers who is a must read for me. This is a writer of wit and perception who can write about anything and be interesting for anyone from high school dropouts, which he was, to the intellectual snobs for whom the Globe is the bible and the CBC is the family institution.
I thought I remembered everything about my delightful time in charge of the Toronto Telegram's coverage of Expo 67.
*Like the photographer I sent to photograph Petula Clark. He vanished for a week while they had a tempestuous fling. They sure weren't singing Downtown. She was staying in Habitat, which made the reputation of designer Moshe Safdie, a prefab hill of concrete blocks which was supposed to revolutionize housing but didn't.
*Like the revolt by the Star's Ray Timson and me when we were allowed no photographer locations for the official ceremony, yet the former Time/Life exec gave two of the five spots to his old employer. The Tely phoned the prime minister and got inside, then we used a picture taken from outside.
*Like the headline story I got from a former journalism classmate who later became my associate editor. Don Hawkes confessed over drinks in the press bar - there was a lot of drinking at Expo - that the much publicized attendance figures were meaningless because the turnstiles were spun by attendants killing time when no one was coming through.
*Like Bobby Gimby and his Ca-Na-Da, the song that became the anthem of a Canadian era.
*Like Labyrinth, which housed a gigantic National Film Board movie at a time when the NFB was still considered a national treasure. Lineups plagued Expo, especially outside the Labyrinth theatres, but when the press tried to sneak in back doors in another attempt to guess at the meaning of the symbolism, the crowds would scream at us.
*Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome seemed marvelous space-craft technology touched down on earth as the U.S. Pavilion. We wrote about a world covered with such domes. Turned out they were difficult to build. Two friends tried it and they always leaked.
Oh yes, I have many memories, but Fulford reminds me of something I had forgotten, and I hasten to add that I was a horny young editor away from his wife for far, far too long. "That dazzling innovation in female fashion, the mini skirt, arrived in North America just in time to play a highly decorative role in Expo 67," Fulford wrote.
Gadzooks, how could I forget the first mini skirts which seemed the work of the Devil setting on fire men from 12 to 90, especially young husbands. Expo pavilions were filled with mini-skirted hostesses while many nubile fair goers were enthusiastic copy cats.
One contributor to the book, Aurora Wallace, a prof at New York University, said the mini skirt was the "iconic artefact" of Expo as it set a sexy and light-hearted tone. Wallace believes it signalled a new era for women.
It certainly signalled a new era in fairs. And world's fairs and Expos since the first in London in 1851 are remembered fondly for what they left behind, whether in Chicago or Barcelona. The Eiffel Tower remains from the fair in Paris and we munch the ice cream cone introduced at the fair in St. Louis.
The Montreal Expo is as significant in Canadian history as more famous rivals were for their country. If only for all those mini skirts. Its world credentials include credit for the wordless pictographs marking men's and women's washrooms. (Some new versions still baffle me.) It also garnered fame for how such a large site had been made accessible for visitors in wheelchairs.
What many don't realize is the impact it had on Ontario. The popular success of the Ontario Pavilion led directly to the building of Ontario Place when the provincial Tories, trying to keep their dynasty rolling, decided that the Canadian National Exhibition may be one of the largest annual fairs in the world but it had been eclipsed by Expo.
Ontario Place became a miniature attempt to recreate some of Expo's architectural glories to the glory of the Conservative government. It even had an IMAX theatre, and the roots of that technology of all spectacle and no story are found in Expo's remarkable cinemas like Labyrinth.
Because of Expo, I became a fierce critic of the CNE (remembered bitterly when I became CNE president) but also kept pointing out that Ontario Place cost six times the first estimate. Forty years later the complexes are still separate and taxpayers are losing millions because they should have just one administration.
Because of Buckminster Fuller's fame after Expo, my newspaper paid the futurist to design a waterfront city in Lake Ontario, our contribution to several decades of daydreaming about reclaiming Toronto's birthright.
Then the Tories at Queen's Park, trying to fashion Bill Davis as an innovative premier rather than just another pragmatic middle-of-the-road Tory, cancelled the Spadina expressway and hired Fuller to design massive pyramids of condos for the now useless right-of-way.
Neither Fuller creation was ever built as he faded as the visionary the world consulted when it wanted to dream in glass and steel. Turned out his dome in Montreal was to be his climax, not just another pleasing creation. Not so for Canada. Expo was a great start on our next century.

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