The magic is gone

Only mem­o­ries still shine from a sum­mer at Expo 67

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL WIL­SON

I STILL LOVE the mem­o­ries of that sum­mer of ’67. It was all about Expo.

Last month, for my birth­day, Marnie and I went to Mon­treal. We trav­elled in style, aboard the dou­ble-decker Me­gabus. The fare from Toronto: $22.

We climbed the 300 steps of St. Joseph’s Or­a­tory, though not on our knees like real pil­grims. We dined on a sum­mer pa­tio built right on the street, Rue St-De­nis, as an old charmer ser­e­naded on the vi­olin.

We spent hours at the Mu­seum of Fine Arts, where a new show called “Rev­o­lu­tion” has moved in for the sum­mer. Wear­ing hi-fi head­phones, you time travel to the ’60s — film, fash­ion, protests, Wood­stock.

I spent the first half of that decade in Sar­nia, and the teenage years were not go­ing so well. I failed Grade 10.

Late in the sum­mer of 1966, we moved to Mon­treal for Dad’s new job. That didn’t turn me into a saint or a scholar, but it was a tonic.

Luck had dropped me into the most ex­cit­ing place on the planet. Expo 67 was com­ing.

I had no con­nec­tions what­so­ever, and wasn’t bilin­gual, but I de­cided I was go­ing to get a job at Expo.

I wanted to be where the world would be. And af­ter knock­ing on a lot of doors, I got on with a New Jersey-based out­fit that had four rides at La Ronde. I re­mem­ber that sum­mer with ab­so­lute joy, even the nights where I hosed vomit off the deck of the Su­per Hi­malaya.

The beau­ti­ful throngs, the in­tox­i­cat­ing smells of pizza and cot­ton candy, “Light My Fire” blast­ing from the ride’s loud­speak­ers. It was nearly more ex­cite­ment than a 16year-old from south­west­ern On­tario could han­dle, and it went un­til 2 a.m. ev­ery night.

Fifty years ago, I turned 16.

I wanted to be where the world would be.

HALF-A-CEN­TURY ON, time to re­turn to Man and His World. We get off the Metro at Îsle Sainte Hélène and ex­plore the Biosphère, the old U.S. pavil­ion. Nearly all the other pavil­ions are gone.

And now we’re at the gates of La Ronde. The park is now owned by Six Flags, an Amer­i­can out­fit. I’ve brought my tat­tered Expo 67 pass­port and show it to the woman at the wicket. “Wow,” she says. She’s 20, and has never seen one of those. But that heir­loom is not get­ting us in. Turns out the cheap­est op­tion is to buy one se­nior’s sea­son pass for $53, be­cause on this day I’m al­lowed to bring in one guest.

We go over to Serge at cus­tomer ser­vice to get that free day pass for Marnie. I show him my old Expo pass­port. “Hey, I’ve got one of those,” he says. Turns out we were both born in June of 1951, and he worked at La Ronde in the ’60s too. We get a pic­ture.

That’s cool. But on the other side of the turn­stile — be­yond the metal de­tec­tors and bag checks that sure weren’t part of the Expo days — it’s clear time has passed me by.

We ride the Galopant, an 1885 Bel­gian-made carousel. It’s one of only a few rides from Expo that re­main. An­other is the mini­rail, but it’s bro­ken. La Spi­rale, a tower ride from 1967, is out of com­mis­sion too.

There are big chains across the door at Le Jardin des Étoiles, which used to glit­ter with shows ev­ery night. And there is much that needs a good coat of paint.

But the place is busy, and fam­i­lies seem to be hav­ing fun. I look around and re­al­ize that ab­so­lutely no­body is old enough to have seen La Ronde when it was brand new and wow­ing the world.

I bought the park’s red-and-white 50th an­niver­sary T-shirt and wore it here in Hamil­ton on Canada Day.

We’ll go back to Mon­treal some­time, but La Ronde won’t be on the itin­er­ary. I’m not mess­ing with the mem­o­ries any­more.


At the gates of La Ronde in Mon­treal, Paul Wil­son met Serge, who works in cus­tomer ser­vice at the park. Turns out they both turned 16 in that sum­mer of Expo.

A 50-year-old Expo pass­port is a nice heir­loom, but it doesn’t get you past the gates of La Ronde to­day.


La Ronde is owned by a U.S. out­fit now and much has changed from Expo days. But the crowds still come.

A few rides from the Expo 67 days still ex­ist at La Ronde. One is the Galopant, a carousel made in Bel­gium in 1885.

Most of the Expo 67 pavil­ions are long gone, but the ge­o­desic dome erected by the U.S. still stands.

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