A Catastrophe for the Organizers of Expo 67

“My biggest difficulty: La Ronde. We weren’t able to get them to leave, they were having too much fun!”

By Carmen Desmeules (translated by Emilie Gosselin)

September 20 1967

A transit strike hits Montreal on this day in history, which will last until October 21. This is a total catastrophe for the Expo 67 management team. The 1967 Universal Exhibition has been underway since April 28, and things are about to get complicated….

The news reaches Director of Operations Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien at 11PM: “I wasn’t able to see a single show in its entirety. Lucien Saulnier called me right in the middle of one that evening to tell me that as of midnight, there would be a major transit strike in Montreal. I said: You can’t do this to me! I have a site on the islands! This can’t be possible…”

The team starts looking for solutions. “We had to go from pavilion to pavilion to say we were closing early. We had three hours to empty the site. We had to close because otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to leave. I think there were 250,000 to 300,000 people on site.

We stayed up all night trying to find other ways. My biggest difficulty: La Ronde. (See the photo gallery!) We weren’t able to get them to leave, they were having too much fun! About a hundred revelers were left.”

It was also National Yugoslavia Day, a country governed by the controversial Marshal Tito at the time. Extravagant security measures are taken seeing as bomb threats were made in a number of Yugoslav embassies in the United States.

The Yugoslav Pavilion was offered to Newfoundland after Expo 67, in gratitude for the help that was given during the sinking of a Yugoslav ship. Today, it houses a maritime museum.

Sources: Expo 67 Collection, Library and Archives Canada; interview with Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, May 2016.