Follow The Leader

Visit Expo 67? It’s still possible thanks to Julie Bélanger!

By Johanne Mercier (translated by Emilie Gosselin)

Photo credit – Sophie Bertrand, Agence Stock Photo

If you think you need to have gone to Expo 67 to be passionate about it, you haven’t had the privilege of meeting Julie Bélanger. This woman, who likes to say she “didn’t exist” in 1967, found a way to relive Expo by giving guided tours on Notre-Dame and Saint-Helen islands, “on a search for lost time!” Time found again as soon as she begins to tell the beautiful story of this summer of dreams on the enchanted islands.

“My passion for Expo is pretty peculiar,” she says. “There wasn’t a precise moment when I can say I became passionate about this event. It’s something that came gradually from within.”

Photo credit – Sophie Bertrand, Agence Stock Photo

Julie’s only memory is limited to a few visits to Man and His World with her grandmother, in the years that followed Expo. She returned as an adolescent in the 80s. What’s left of Expo is but a fraction of the splendor it once had. A decrepit shadow. The pavilions that still stand have lost their glamour; nature has taken over these once manicured public spaces.

Could the need to chase away this disenchanting perspective of tomorrow be what led Julie, during the 40th anniversary of Expo in 2007, to start organizing guided tours on site? Maybe. One thing is for certain, she embarks on this adventure to share the wonderful history of the exhibition, by going off to hunt for artefacts.

With a maximum of thirty participants, Julie takes to the islands via the pathways. Expo 67 reappears through the remains, through her passion, and through the spirited stories she shares. Along the road, buildings built for Expo, now destined for a new, often administrative, vocation. Monuments, such as the former US pavilion, now the Biosphere, and France and Quebec pavilions now the Montreal Casino, are great witnesses of Expo. The same goes for the magnificent public art installations, like the incredible Calder. Being an urban architect herself, Julie also makes you discover a stairway that no longer leads anywhere, a forgotten fence, an abandoned mosaïc, part of an anonymous pavilion that is no longer fired with the light it once had.

Photo credit – Sophie Bertrand, Agence Stock Photo

The Past Meets the Future

“In getting interested in the history behind Expo 67, I realized that most of Montreal’s modern history is tied, in some way, to what happened in Montreal in 1967. So I wanted to dig, dig, and dig, and well, the more you dig, the more you want to keep digging. The more you find interesting people, the more you continue to feed your passion.” Such a well fed passion that Julie has a small museum of Expo artifacts at her home, and even a tattoo of the Expo logo on her forearm!

During her visits, Julie’s approach surpasses the geographical aspect of the now mythical location. “In order to bring about change for the future, you need to understand the past. With my Expo 67 visits, I look to understand where we came from, as Montrealers, as Quebecois, as Canadian, but also as individuals. The values that were presented in 1967 are extremely enduring, and will always be.”

Expo 67 marked the future of Quebec, by bringing to light the latest discoveries in technology, science, food and the art of the period. It enticed the people to look to the future, put their resources together, to celebrate friendship among peoples. Julie Bélanger is inhabited with this openness to the world. “I like the idea that everyone is working together to improve the well-being of humans in a larger, more global sense.”

This summer, which marks the 50th anniversary of Expo 67, Julie Belanger begins her tenth season of touring. The next tours will be on May 5, 6, and 7 and reservations can be made through the Expo 67 group on Facebook. The tour is free and last for approximately three hours. If it rains, it is either postponed or cancelled. Details are posted on the Group the morning of.

Julie and the admirers of Expo meet in front of Jean-Drapeau metro station, which in 1967, saw hundreds of thousands of Expo visitors walk through its doors. Running shoes are highly recommended and consideration of the fact that the islands are always a few degrees lower than in the city. In talking about the forecast, of course! Not of the heat the reigns in this exceptional visit!

Photo credit – Sophie Bertrand, Agence Stock Photo

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