Photo credit: Bill Dutfield, used with permission with our sincere thanks.

Bird's eye view of La Ronde construction, Expo 67


Curtain Going Up On 'Miracle of the River'

By Richard Jackson of The Ottawa Journal

MONTREAL - All Montreal stands tip-toe today with the whole world looking over its shoulder to watch this miracle-of-the-river, the opening of Expo.

Heady bubbles of excitement fill the champagne air.

For this is the greatest-ever global exposition, an extravaganza of 70 nations putting on international display the very best of their achievements.

And it's a miracle that it is opening this afternoon. For they said it was impossible.

They swore you couldn't manage 1,000 show-window island-acres in the St. Lawrence, then build on them this lunar landscape of geometric architecture.

But if you were crazily extravagant enough to try, they warned, you'd never, never be able to open the show on time.

And up until a week ago it looked like they just might turn out to be right.


It all began four years ago.

The pessimists were first off the mark with their crepe-hanging and then the next thing anybody knew, relays of multi-ton dump-trucks were running a 24-hour chain operation, packing rock fill blasted from the tunnels of Montreal's Metro and piling it in the river.

In a little over 15 months they stacked up 700 new acres of real estate on the water with that rock fill, topped with sludge dredged up from the river bed.

The stuff came in from the subway at the rate of a load a minute and with it they tripled the size of Ile Sainte-Helen - named 356 years ago by Samuel De Champlain after his wife.

Then they built an entirely new island -- Ile Notre Dame -- on some nearby mud flats they expropriated from the outraged seagulls.

And they set up a peninsula called Cite Du Havre on what had been a breakwater called MacKay Pier.

They had their thousand-acre fair grounds -- like the world never had been seen before -- and on it they went to work with vast enthusiasm backed by $650,000,000.

Together, to tell the part they played in the history of man and his works, Canada and her 70 international worlds fair working partners are spending this great fortune as a sort of statement of trust in our creative individuality and our ability to partially control our environment and the forces of nature.

And until a week ago, it looked like perhaps they wouldn't make it -- at least not on time.


For just seven days ago, like a Tiffany spectacular, the last of the diamond-shaped ice floes were still tumbling down the silt-stained river past a scene close to chaos.

Mud and madness were everywhere.

It was a desolation of dust and dirt, grime and slime.

Nothing really looked completely finished.

Nothing looked as if it would, or even could, be ready by opening day.

Compressors were still roaring, jack-hammers pounding, draglines snorting.

Three-ton trucks, loaded to the limits of their tires and springs, and six-ton concrete-carriers, mixing as they rolled to the building sites, were gently squishing through the soft new tarmac of the roads and walks.

Carpenters were only starting to hammer up the wooden forms for the broad concrete steps to the British pavilion.

Debris decorated much of the lunatic landscape, with battered and broken crates -- emptied of their overseas exhibits -- the main motif.

The last of 10,000 trees were still being dug into a rich mix of 300,000 cubic yards of topsoil with 40,000 of peat moss.

In were going the final few of 200,000 daffodils, tulips and summer flowers.

Like tiles, 1,000,000 square yards of brittle, brown lawn sod were being plastered over the river sludge that filled the gaps between the chunks of subway rock that built the show-islands.

It was instant landscape.

And it was thick with dust -- dust which greyed everything.


Then in swarmed a task force of 7,500 to clean up.

A 50-man team of high-rise window washers crawled, antlike, over the 20-story plastic dome of the strikingly geodesic United States pavilion.

Things began to brighten.

The glitter of it all started to shine through the grime.

But if this biggest of all world fairs isn't truly spectacular it's nothing.

And a measure of it was last night's invasion by an army of 4,000 Montreal street cleaners with their sweepers and sprinklers.

Mobilized on special marching orders from Montreal's dynamic Mayor Drapeau, they swept and washed it all reasonably clean in a night.

Primed and polished, this miracle-of-the-river awaits the first of its expected 30,000,000 viewers, the 4,000 special VIP guests, led by Governor General Michener and Prime Minister Pearson who are getting a private red-carpet showing this afternoon.

The inauguration of the Montreal Universal and international Exhibition -- better known as Expo 67 -- was set for 4 p.m. in a 4-acre amphitheatre after a day of pomp and ceremony.

Host for the state occasion was Pierre Dupuy, commissioner general of the fair, who left his post as Ambassador to France in 1963 to guide the establishment of a world fair in Canada's centennial year.

The big day for the public, excluded from the inaugural, will come Friday when fair officials predict 119,700 will come through the four main gateways on the fair's first public day.

End of article. Copyright by the Ottawa Journal, April 27, 1967. All rights reserved. Note: the Ottawa Journal has been defunct for quite some time.