The magic is gone
Only memories still shine from a summer at Expo 67
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.