Need to Meet an Impossible Deadline? Ask Colonel Churchill!

By Carmen Desmeules (translated by Emilie Gosselin)

Edward Churchill, Director of Installations at Expo 67 collapses in midst of an impossible deadline, suffering from a mild heart attack. From his hospital bed, he gives advice and delegates tasks to his team by phone..

Photo credit : Archives of Glen Churchill

Diana Nicholson, Churchill’s colleague, spoke of him during an interview in 2016: “Colonel Churchill suffered from two heart attacks during the planning period,” she said. “And while he was in the hospital, he asked that a small mock-up of Expo be brought to his room. He was constantly on the phone, negotiating with contractors, etc. Ah… the Colonel! He never stopped. And he had a strong temper… he often exploded…”

Roger D. Landry, Assistant Director of Public Relation adds: 

“Colonel Churchill was a leader of men. He built Expo 67 ”

An old collaborator and friend of Commissioner of Expo Robert Shaw, Colonel Edward Churchill started his work for Expo in 1963. A retired officer of the Canadian Armed Forces, he had been working a comfortable position at the Federal government at the time.

A rigorous engineer, he implemented the Critical Path Method for the construction of the islands and pavilions – he had no intention of playing games.

Churchill had helped the general Sir Bernard Montgomery build airfields during the Second World War and Robert Shaw build the DEW Line, a system of radar stations from Alaska to Iceland that could detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War.

The PERT, or Program Evaluation and Review Technique, also known at the critical path, required the use of a new machine, named the computer, and consisted in integrating each facet of an operation into its database. With this method, he was able to determine the exact point of any aspect of the construction and whether it was early or late. As supervisor, he used somewhat brutal strategies to threaten the entrepreneurs who weren’t respecting the deadlines.

The Critical Path was Churchill’s motto, and was the method used by the American Navy for the construction of the Polaris missile, which called upon 250 suppliers and over 9,000 subcontractors.

And so, this was the method imposed upon the team that was to build Expo 67. “The Power of the deadline.”

Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada and Archives of Glen Churchill

“What a guy!” Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, Mayor of Expo, said in an interview last year. “One of the biggest advantages I ever had was having the Critical Path Method, which I immediately adopted from Churchill. There was nothing I didn’t do at Expo without having someone in my service appointed to the critical path. Entertainment, critical path. Hostesses, critical path. Restaurants, critical path. Everything that I did. I still use it today. It’s a discipline that I have learned, and that has been of great help to me. And it all came from the Engineering and Construction Department.”

Colonel Churchill was eventually released from the hospital and saw to the completion of the colossal task he accepted, all thanks to the critical path and despite the setbacks his heart encountered!

Source : Interviews with Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, Diana Nicholson and Roger D. Landry (2016); Expo 67 Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

How did Expo 67 end?