The Bitter-Sweet of Farewell to Expo

by George R. Oak of The Ottawa Journal

TO MANY people it was like the end of the world. Art, culture, technology, all of man's achievements were there but most important, Expo was people.

The spirit was everywhere on the last day. When the Golden Centenaries roared over Montréal, shortly after the noon closing ceremonies passersby paused and looked up and then continued. Their pace seemed a little slower.

Photo credit:  © National Archives of Canada

On the site the mood wasn't Sunday. People poured in to beat the two p.m. closing. Once through the gates the urgency was gone. The inevitable lineups snaked around the major pavilions but many preferred a leisurely promenade through the site. Collars tightly buttoned, the chill air gave faces a rosy hue. The mood was reverent. Smiles wreathed almost all the faces. But, Expo was youth and youth can't be suppressed for long.

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IN THE Barbados pavilion, a favorite spa for visitors and Expo employees, a spontaneous party broke out. Mechanical noise-makers appeared from nowhere and were passed to the crowd. The bar waitresses wore blue flags in their hair that said "au revoir Expo." A group of white smocked Expo employees were sandwiched in one corner, arms around each other's shoulders, singing at the top of their lungs -- perhaps afraid to stop or the party would end. Lost amid the forest of legs, a small boy cried and a bearded black man scooped him up. After giving him a balloon, he held the tearful lad at arms length and said, "C'mon, Canada, the party isn't over yet."

But it was. In the Air Canada pavilion a hostess close to tears said, "It's been so much fun."

It was among Expo's youthful staff that emotions seemed highest. The official hostesses, encased in white plastic rain capes gazed in seeming disbelief as the crowds thinned.

"Most of us plan to travel extensively," one said, "it's too late for university but I honestly can't believe it's over."

A young waiter cleared his last table in a French restaurant. He plans to spend the winter skiing in the west. Expo brought a taste of the world to the islands in the St. Lawrence and those close to the fair seem bend on satisfying newly acquired appetites.

As the first pavilion doors began closing the rumor flew. All the bars were to be closed to prevent vandalism. Some pavilions had armed guards stationed around the exhibits. The fireworks were to be set off on Mount Royal. All proved untrue.

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THERE was no evidence of vandalism. Sure, the Cominco fountain and few others were filled with detergent, effervescently soapy and white. But it wouldn't be man and his world without whimsical pranks. An RCMP constable put it this way: "They love her too much to hurt her."

Expo was a young girl in the eyes of all. She was alive. By late afternoon the leaden skies grew darker, closer, and reluctantly the throng moved to express platforms or the bridge of St. Hélène, a good vantage point for the fireworks.

A last minute rush on the boutiques burdened the departing crowd with paintings, Tunisian rugs and African carvings. As the final hours ticked away prices dropped up to 50 per cent. A few people paused and gazed reproachfully at Expo employees lowering the flags of Chad and Senegal in Africa Place.

The 67 gun salute boomed hollowly over the St. Lawrence site. Some wept. Sailors aboard the Royal Canadian Navy's St. Laurent cast off and moved from Mackay pier. Officers and men lined the decks gazing over at the almost dark pavilions.

"Auld Lang Syne" spontaneously broke from the thousands queued up for the Expo Express but it soon trailed off. Conversation was muted, punctuated by the roar of the express on one of its last runs.

At City Du Havre hundreds lined the river's bank for the fireworks. When they came there were no "oohs" or "ahs" -- just silence. Despite a biting breeze from the water and near freezing temperatures, the crowd remained after the fireworks concluded, staring across the grew water at Isle St. Hélène and Isle Notre Dame. Finally they turned and left.

- End of article. Copyright by The Ottawa Journal, October 31, 1967. All rights reserved.