THE GRAND DESIGN OF A WORLD'S FAIR
SPECIAL REPORT/EXPO 86
At 10 a.m. on May 2 British Columbia will launch the biggest party in its history, the $1.5-billion transportation and communications fair known as Expo 86. The signs of the extravaganza on the shores of False Creek in Vancouver are everywhere, from the stylized blue number 86 that hangs from white banners on downtown buildings to Expo 86 logos emblazoned on the funnels of B.C. ferries. In the rest of Canada and throughout the United States, fast-paced television commercials serve as a call to B.C. charms. But the surest sign that the countdown to opening day was proceeding in the best tradition of world’s fairs could be seen last week as workmen with caulking guns clambered over the 17-storey geodesic dome—the international symbol of the fair—to repair the leaks. Declared James Ogul, director of exhibits at the U.S. pavilion and a veteran of the last three world’s fairs:
“We had leaks in Knoxville, we had leaks in New Orleans and we had leaks in Japan, so I felt right at home when I had leaks here.”
Despite the glitches on the site, James Pattison, the president and chairman of Expo 86 Corp., could fairly boast about
the prospect of 15 million visits—ranging from $20 day tickets to $160 season passes. The sales effort amounts to the largest marketing campaign in North American history: by opening day the provincial Crown corporation and 32 corporate sponsors will have spent $100 million. In addition to TV advertisements across the country in both official languages and displays of the official fair logo beside the passenger doors of all CP air j ets, Expo’s symbol showed up on everything from milk cartons to Royal Bank of Canada Ltd. statements. In the United States the campaign has focused on Washington, Oregon and California—the three states with pavilions on the site—which are the most likely tourist targets. But Expo has even booked time on Florida television stations for commercials showing a red-coated Mountie commanding people to the fair: “And that’s an order.”
Inevitably, Expo 86 will face comparisons with Canada’s first world’s fair in Montreal. As defined by the Paris-based International Bureau of Expositions (IBE), Expo 67 was a “universal” fair which allowed participating nations to build their own distinctive pavilions. That, with the broad “Man and His World” theme, produced exhibits
that were remarkable for their flair and diversity. Expo 86 in Vancouver is a designated “special category” fair, where the host nation leases prefabricated structures to foreign nations and the theme is limited. The theme in Vancouver is “World in Motion—World in Touch: human aspirations and achievements in transportation and communications.”
Power: The result is a proliferation of modular rectangles which will house 52 foreign exhibitors. At least until the various nations decorate the exteriors, the buildings are an unremarkable presence on the 173-acre site, a fourminute train ride from the heart of the city. But visitors will be able to marvel at some flights of architectural fancy by Canadian government and corporate participants which, under the rules, were allowed to erect their own structures. Among them: the soaring white glass-fibre sails of the Canada pavilion in Vancouver’s busy harbor; the peaked glass tower of British Columbia; and the raised wedge of the General Motors pavilion.
Still, the fair’s signature building is Expo Centre—the leaking geodesic dome that Vancouverites call “the golf ball.” Despite the power of its symbolism, the structure dramatically illustrates the problems that accompany instant architecture. And based on past records indicating that Vancouver could receive up to 15 inches of precipitation during the fair’s run until Oct. 13, there was a special urgency to the roof repairs: the dome was supposed to be 100-per-cent waterproof to prevent damage to a massive and highly sensitive movie screen that will show a major fair attraction, A Freedom to Move.
Feast: Organizers could only hope that in Vancouver’s mild coastal climate, transportation—not the weather—will remain as the theme. From the sparkling redwhite-and-blue cars of the SkyTrain, which will drop thousands of visitors an hour at the two main gates, to the Space Tower at the west end, which will offer the sensation of freefall in guided capsules, transport will provide a feast for the senses (page 24).
Just inside the eastern entrance, the audience watching A Freedom to Move will have the sense that they are flying an ultralight plane, watching a bullet train and walking on an ancient Roman road. To the east of B.C. Place Stadium, near the Australia and Ontario pavilions, a whimsical sculpture named Highway 86 will rise out of the waters of False Creek bearing a convoy of untended vehicles.
Farther along the crescent-shaped site, the Americans and the Soviets will mount competitive displays of their pioneering space technologies—and for the first time at a world’s fair in North America, the People’s Republic of China will join the image battle of the superpowers (page 28). Special events throughout the fair will include a flypast by an “Airmada” of vintage DC-3S, trips on a high-speed Japanese levitating train and—for more sober souls—an international symposium on transportation and communications. As well, there will be an ambitious cultural and entertainment program offering 14,000 performances (page 32).
The competition for exhibition space has been intense. A Malaysian delegation, which was late filing its application, may end up locating its pavilion on a barge in False Creek because all the space in the modular pavilions has been leased. But Pattison relishes such problems. The wealthy Vancouver businessman who parlayed a car dealership into a vast communications and transport empire declared: “We are all sold out. We can’t find space for another food cart on that site.”
Marvels: Of the transportation marvels that will remain after the fair ends is the SkyTrain, a 22-km service which opened in December between downtown and New Westminster— with two stops at the False Creek site. Even though Expo’s life-span will be brief, staging the fair has had a far-reaching effect on the host city. For one thing, Vancouver residents have been attending sports events and rock concerts i in the 60,001-seat B.C. Place—the first domed stadium in Canada— since June, 1983. And two new luxury hotels, Tokyu Canada Corp.’s $100-million Pan Pacific, a tiered, 23-storey structure rising behind the Canada pavilion, and the Imperial Group’s $70-million Méridien on Burrard Street, nine blocks from the main site, have opened their doors in the past three months with a five-star flourish. Said Charles (Chunky) Woodward, chairman and chief executive officer of Woodward’s Ltd., a department store chain that has operated in British Columbia since 1898: “This is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to Vancouver.”
Still, the fair is only one more attraction in a metropolitan region of one million where residents rightly boast of living in one of the world’s most beautiful settings. To the north, across the busy harbor and Burrard Inlet, Grouse Mountain offers skiing until March, only a 30-minute drive from
nightclubs, boutiques and restaurants in the downtown core. And Stanley Park, 1,000 tranquil acres of greenery at the tip of a peninsula crowded with the highrise apartments of Vancouver’s West End, is a neighborhood retreat for all Vancouverites.
The shoreline of the park anchors one end of the Lions Gate Bridge, a Vancouver landmark since industrialist Rupert Guinness spent $5.5 million erecting it in 1938 to ensure development of his North Shore real estate holdings. The family charged tolls on the privately owned bridge until the province bought it in 1955. And Expo prompted the Guinnesses to renew their connection with the bridge: at the government’s request the family donated $300,000 for lighting and now, for the first time, the outline of the bridge can be seen for many miles on a clear night after dark.
Embroiled: At the same time, Expo has been hotly debated in a province split between Premier William Bennett’s ruling Social Credit administration and the opposition New Democrats. Bennett argues that Expo will infuse $2.8 billion into the B.C. economy and generate invaluable international publicity for Vancouver—he refers to the geodesic dome as “the Eiffel Tower of Vancouver.” In contrast, some New Democrats question the long-term benefits of the fair. Declared Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt, who will run as an NDP candidate in the next provincial election: “Expo is just a burp in this city’s history. The real issue is whether we have an economic game plan to capitalize on it.”
Bennett has been nothing if not determined. In 1984 he threatened to cancel Expo when unionized construction workers refused to work on the exhibition site alongside nonunion employees. Bennett prevailed by declaring the site a “special economic zone” that could not bar nonunion labor and legislating an end to work stoppages and strikes.
Last month Bennett’s government—and the Expo Corp.— became embroiled in controversy over charges that landlords were evicting low-income tenants from 10 small, run-down hotels near the Expo site. The rooms now rent for about $225 per month, but landlords have their eye on rates of up to $100 per day for a refurbished room during Expo. Last week the government announced the formation of a committee to help tenants find new lodgings. But the province has done nothing to stop the evictions. Said 83-year-old John Stefaniczan, who received a week’s notice to vacate his $225-a-month room at the Regal Place hotel on West Hastings Street, a 15-minute walk from the fair site: “This is the worst situation of my life.” But Stefaniczan is one of the lucky few among the 250 tenants evicted so far; he is now living in provincially subsidized housing.
Putting Vancouver on the international map was one of the main reasons that Bennett’s government began the push for Expo in 1978. Conceived in heady economic times, the province’s share of the fair’s $1.5-billion budget ballooned from $80 million in 1979 to $387 million by 1982—and now sits at $698 million. Organizers admit that the fair will close with a deficit of up to $400 million, which the province will have to cover, perhaps through a series of lotteries.
Struggling: Still, Bennett argues that Expo created jobs during the past four years, a period when the provincial unemployment rate reached 14.7 per cent and international prices for such B.C. resources as lumber and coal declined. Declared BCTV open-line host Jack Webster: “I shudder to think what the economic climate of British Columbia would be like without the fair. It’s been a godsend in a pretty dismal economy.”
According to figures compiled by Expo 86 accountants, the exhibition has created 9,250 construction jobs in a three-year building phase—now 97-per-cent completed — and will provide jobs for 69,600 workers throughout the province during Expo’s run. Larry Kenyon, manager of Structurlam Products Ltd. of Penticton, B.C., was a benefi-
COUNTDOWN TO EXPO 86
Canada’s second world's fair, the $1.5-billion Expo 86 is taking shape on a 173-acre site in the heart of Vancouver. As the May 2 opening day approaches, work crews are putting the finishing touches on exhibits and pavilions representing 53 nations. Some of the highlights and landmarks:
ciary of Expo’s business spin-offs. In August his company built a 200-foot wooden replica of a hockey stick for the Canada pavilion. It took 10 of the company’s employees two weeks to finish the project and an entire day to ship the 62,000-lb. stick 400 km to Vancouver—but the deal generated revenue of $60,000.
But many British Columbians still struggling to emerge from the recession are concerned about an economic decline after the tourists go home from Expo and the jobs it generated end. Said Bruno Gerussi, star of CBC TV’S The Beachcombers:
“British Columbia is pretty much an economic disaster area. I’m apprehensive about what will happen after Expo. I hope it’s not a return to economic catastrophe.”
Chilling: That pessimism is not shared by Expo’s 32 corporate sponsors, each of whom paid $1 million for the right to use the fair’s logo while promoting their products. The list of blue-chip participants includes Canadian Pacific Ltd., The Royal Bank of Canada, Imperial Oil Ltd. and McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. And Expo officials estimate that corporate contributions in cash, goods and services will provide the fair with $150 million. Declared McDonald’s executive vice-president Ron Marcoux: “We’re into it for about $17 million.”
Still, the chilling memory of the $1billion deficit incurred by the 1976 Montreal Olympics made the federal government and Vancouver city council wary of an unrestrained role in Expo 86. And the dismal financial outcome of the two most recent North American world’s fairs, one in Knoxville in 1982 and another in New Orleans in 1984, reinforced that caution. The Knoxville exhibition cost $115 million to stage and turned a technical profit of $7 million, but left the city with a debt of $76 million and tax increases of eight per cent. The New Orleans fair ended a sixmonth run with five million fewer visitors than planned and with a debt of $100 million. As a result, Mayor Harcourt refused to allow the city to assume any financial liability for the fair.
Snapped: Across Canada, travel agencies report that requests for Expo information are increasing. Said Marilyn Baird, manager of Burgess Travel Ltd. in Halifax: “It’s great—almost every second call is about Expo.” In London, Ont., Robert Smith, the owner of FunwayTours Inc., has sold 12,000 tours at up to $900 each, including a three-day
pass to Expo and in some cases a train -
trip through the Rockies. Said Smith, who has booked seven charter flights weekly during the fair’s duration: “I could have sold 50,000 tours, but all the hotel rooms in Vancouver have been snapped up.”
Indeed, roughly 75 per cent of hotel space in the Lower Mainland has already been booked for the duration of the fair and tour operators are selling rooms in Whistler—a two-hour drive from Vancouver—and on Vancouver Island for as much as $125 a night. Said John Engstrom, travel editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We understand
that a lot of the normal accommodation is booked and most of the big ticket entertainment is gone. This fair may be too successful for its own good.”
It began in 1978 as Transpo 86, a modest $80-million exposition to celebrate Vancouver’s centenary. Since then, encouraged by Bennett, who faces an election by May, 1988, organizers adopted the fair slogan—“Invite the World” — at face value. Said Expo commissioner general Patrick Reid, who convinced the 52 countries to come to Expo 86:
“When I first started talking to people four years ago, some of these countries didn’t know where Vancouver was. I had to get out my map and point to it.”
Ottawa had its own brand of reservations. After subsidizing Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the former Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau placed limits on its participation in Expo 86. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government maintained this restraint. Ottawa’s total contribution is $250 million, 60 per cent of that for the Canada pavilion on the harborfront—which
will become a trade and convention centre after the fair closes. Ottawa will also cover the cost of customs officials, translators and security guards needed during Expo. But federal co-ordinator William Pascal has a single reply to the numerous requests for more money—no.
Another frequent Expo development has been dismissals of senior staff members. During the past five years disputes and purges have resulted in the firing and resignations of 35 executives. The first exodus began in the fall of 1982 just as the fair acquired a new general manager, Michael Bartlett, a 43-year-old American who had helped build Canada’s Wonderland, a $120-million amusement park north of Toronto. When he arrived in Vancouver only one of the 14 directors on the Expo board could claim any world’s fair experience and construction was four months behind schedule.
Bartlett planned to include a midway on the site, intensifying criticism that he would transform Expo into Disneyland 86. Partly for budgetary reasons, he later modified that design, dappling the grounds with five rides, including a roller coaster and a restored 1907 carousel. Bartlett also drew on 12 years experience in large theme parks to get ticket sales and construction back on schedule. And the giant geodesic dome opened on May 2, 1985—a message from Expo organizers that the rest of the site would be finished in time for the opening exactly one year later.
Unhappy: Although Bartlett can claim a large part of the credit for healthy advance ticket sales and the improved construction schedule, he will not be among the opening day dignitaries. After provincial government officials criticized his allocation of Expo contracts to U.S. firms, Bartlett abruptly resigned his position last June, refusing to discuss the actual circumstances or the terms of his departure. Pattison, 51, then added the president’s job to his responsibilities as chairman. Pattison said that such departures were not unusual in a project where people are working under intense pressure to meet approaching deadlines. Said Pattison: “We’re going to be firing more people. In an organization like this, which starts from nothing and is all over in six months, that is what is expected.”
Pattison is no stranger to unhappy partings. He once used to fire the lowest-grossing salesman at his car dealership each month in order to stimulate the survivors to greater efforts. For the past five years he has continued to conduct his own international business deals during the early morning hours and on weekends, while spending up to 16 hours a day on Expo
matters. His provincial salary is $1 per year, but Pattison can easily afford to get along on that token: last year’s combined sales from the 40 companies in the Jim Pattison Group topped $1.2 billion.
At last, the hard work on the fair is paying dividends. The relentless salesmanship, the high-powered advertising campaign and the fact that there will be a summer-long extravaganza on the shores of False Creek, no matter what the critics say, have finally generated a sense of excitement about Expo in Vancouver. Even prominent residents whom the Social Credit government has snubbed are planning to attend the fair, among them architect Arthur Erickson. Although he designed the Canadian pavilion at the 1970 world’s fair in Osaka and the Man in the Community pavilion for Expo 67, Erickson’s distinctive signature will not grace Expo 86. One likely reason is British Columbia’s fiercely partisan politics: Erickson appeared in an NDP advertisement during the 1975 provincial election, which returned the Socreds to office. Said Erickson of the fair: “I will have people visiting me who will insist I take them to it. I will probably go in disguise.”
Undeterred: British Columbians might not have had a fair to attend at all had it not been for an unheralded meeting between career diplomat Reid and then-minister of travel industry Grace McCarthy eight years ago. In June, 1978, McCarthy, now deputy premier, was in Britain promoting B.C. tourism. At that time Reid was Ottawa’s public affairs official at Canada House —and vice-president of the International Bureau of Expositions. McCarthy was considering asking the French government to send Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Vancouver for the city’s centennial—and she asked Reid to help her. Recalled Reid:
“I gulped because I knew how impossible that would be.” To assuage her disappointment, Reid invited McCarthy to lunch at the exclusive Cavalry and Guards Club—where she noted Reid’s IBE connections and raised the question of Vancouver hosting a world’s fair in 1986. Reid pointed out that the Japanese had the inside track on IBE approval for that year. Undeterred, McCarthy returned to Vancouver and began lobbying IBE officials in Paris. Her efforts paid off. The Japanese agreed to hold their fair in 1985. Said Reid: “That was the start of it all.”
Stimulate: By their nature, world fairs are unusual events, offering signposts to future development and neutral ground on which men and women from around the world can meet and display the means of attaining their goals. At their best, they foster goodwill and stimulate change in the cities that host them. Expo 86 clearly has the potential to achieve greatness.
If it does so, the fair will also have demonstrated that cooperation is still possible in a complex and fragmented world. If nothing else, the building of Expo 86 has been true to the Canadian spirit. Declared Michael Dibben, the former publicity director for the Montreal world’s fair: “It took some effort to persuade the press that just building Expo 67 was feasible and could be done—not by a bunch of foreigners but by people from Canada.” In 1967 they also had to fix leaks in the roofs of several pavilions before opening day.