At Expo 67, Montréal and Canada dazzled 50 million visitors with Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67
“I try firstly to make buildings humane.”
– Architect Moshe Safdie
Expo 67: in true Canadian fashion, it had its skeptics – and Expo proved them wrong.
They said the city of Montréal couldn’t pull it off. They said mayor Jean Drapeau’s idea to build a man-made island (and enlarge another) in the St. Lawrence River was crazy. Some engineers scoffed at Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie’s radical modular housing complex. The hand-wringers predicted hosting the World’s Fair would become a financial sinkhole.
Spotlight: Moshe Safdie
EVENT SNAPSHOT: Expo 67 Stamp unveiling, April 27, 2017
Expo 67: The event that thrilled the world
The doubters were wrong – about the islands, about Habitat and about Expo 67 itself. Canada not only hosted the world – it dazzled it. The event became the most successful World’s Fair of the century.
Remembering Canada’s Centennial year – and how Expo 67 showcased our nation
Expo 67 introduced a new, vibrant Canada to the world – and now Canada Post is introducing an Expo 67 stamp to commemorate that exciting event. Habitat 67 is such an enduring symbol of Expo 67 that it was chosen to grace the stamp. The same housing complex was also chosen to host the well-attended stamp unveiling event today – 50 years to the day of Expo’s opening ceremonies. Safdie, an architect of global renown now based in Massachusetts – so revered that his body of work is the subject of books and museum exhibits – graciously took the time from his busy practice to attend and unveil the stamp.
It is the first in a set of 10 stamps to be issued to mark Canada 150 – each one celebrating an unforgettable moment in the life of this country since its centennial. The 10 stamps will be individually unveiled between today and June 1 at locations across the country – and go on sale June 1.
Habitat 67 became Expo’s feature attraction. Safdie, Montréal-raised and educated, was then young and unknown, but he demonstrated his boldness and brilliance with a revolutionary design inspired by beehives and communal living. It stood out among other breathtaking architecture, including the Canada Pavilion, which was an inverted pyramid, and the U.S. Pavilion, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome (now home to the Montréal Biosphere).
Uniting Canadians as we hosted the world
Expo 67 brought Canadians from across the country and visitors from around the world together in Montréal for six months between April and October 1967. When Canada’s population was only 20 million, more than 50 million people attended. That ratio set a per-capita attendance record for a World’s Fair, which still stands.
Those six months became a landmark moment for Canada – socially, culturally and politically. Expo 67 featured pavilions from 62 countries, as well as Canada’s provinces and territories. It was an opportunity for Canadians to get better acquainted with Quebec culture. It attracted many notable figures of the time, including Queen Elizabeth II, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, and Bing Crosby. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast live from Expo 67 twice that May. Many Canadians associate Bobby Gimby’s popular centennial tune Ca-na-da with Expo 67. The fair focused on the futuristic theme of “Man and His World,” and featured displays of everything from health and exploration to industry and the arts.
The City of Festivals endures as a microcosm of Canadian culture
Fifty years later, the vision and legacy of Expo 67 still echo today through Montréal’s infrastructure, architecture, public art and the two islands in the St. Lawrence River. And yes – it echoes in Habitat itself, still a highly desirable address in a world-class city.
Prime minister Lester B. Pearson called Expo 67 “one of the most daring acts of faith in Canadian enterprise and ability ever undertaken.” And he wasn’t talking just about those islands, created by dumping 25 million tons of rock and dirt into the powerful river. He too seemed caught up in the era of energy and progress that Expo 67 captured. In Canada’s centennial year, this country was bursting with boundless optimism.
“If this little sub-arctic, self-obsessed country of 20,000,000 people can put on this kind of show, then it can do almost anything,” journalist Peter C. Newman wrote on the opening day, capturing that sentiment.
At the opening ceremonies, Pearson shared a prediction.
“By the time the gates of Expo are closed six months from now,” he said, “its success will have made all Canadians prouder of our own country than ever before…”
He was right.
Here is the other stamp unveiled so far as part of our Canada 150 program: