Remembering Expo ‘67

The past year’s celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday reminded me of another anniversary: that of my first visit to this country, which occurred 50 years ago. I was 12 years old, and my father had promised us that we would be seeing Expo 67, the world’s fair in Montréal. We had been expecting this all summer, but school rolled around and we hadn’t yet made the trip. We children knew that the fair would not last forever, and we feared missing it if we waited too long.

October rolled around and still no fair. As Expo would be wrapping up at the end of the month, we got more nervous. But then, on the fifth day of the month, I came home from school to learn that we would be getting in our family’s Buick Electra and leaving for the fair in only two hours! I can no longer recall whether my mother had already packed for all eight of us, but we soon headed off into the night, as prepared as we were ever going to be.

After stopping to visit my grandmother near Ann Arbor, Michigan, we headed into Detroit, which had just gone through a summer of unrest and violence from which it was never fully to recover. Driving through the city, we entered Canada through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. That evening I wrote in my personal journal:

The streets of Windsor were lined with province [sic] seals and centennial flags. On we drove. Everyone was getting tired and hungry. We stopped at this store called Met and had something to eat at their snack shop. Everything in this store was truly Canadian and so were the words: centre, neighbour, theatre, etc. They had some tote bags for carrying souvenirs in. I bought an Expo 67 tote bag. We got our money exchanged for Canadian.

What we had not known when we started out was that we were arriving at the fair during Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. This, coupled with the imminent closure of the fair, ensured that huge crowds would be attending. The skies were grey, and we mostly wandered around for a few days, rode the Minirail through the American bubble pavilion, and then turned around and drove back to Chicago. But not before seeing Jackie Kennedy, widowed for just short of four years, who was touring Expo with her entourage of secret service men. Despite the gloomy day, she wore sunglasses, unsuccessfully disguising her true identity.

A great country

Twenty years later, fresh out of the University of Notre Dame with PhD in hand, I moved to Canada and have lived here ever since. By 1987 this was a different country. The metric system had replaced imperial measurements in the 1970s. Restaurants were more inclined to admit children. Lester Pearson was no longer prime minister. The dollar bill had been phased out of circulation and supplanted by the now iconic Loonie coin. Canada’s population had increased from 20 million to almost 27 million. And, of course, I was no longer 12 years old.

Having lived in this country for three decades now, I’ve forgotten some things about my country of birth. “What? Americans don’t have butter tarts?” “Sir, how am I supposed to fill up my tank when the pump keeps requesting a zip code with my credit card?” “You’ve never heard of poutine?” “When is Martin Luther King day again?”

Canada is a great country, and I am proud to be a citizen. However, some things I’ve never quite adjusted to. For example, I dislike seeing the Christmas decorations go up the day after Halloween. At least Americans have their late November Thanksgiving as a temporal barrier against the premature encroachment of Santa Claus and his minions. Or at least they did when I lived there.

Last month I suggested that we might give thanks to God for blessing us with the public legal community known as the state. This month I will be more specific: let us give thanks for Canada’s 150 years and pray for many more.  


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