Vancouver—Narcissus-on-the-Pacific, the village on the edge of the rain forest, shimmering in its own beauty—is a city both boastful and insecure. Its braggering and swaggering attitude toward strangers infuriates the remainder of Canada, which must endure the fact that this port, thanks to the Japan Current, does not possess winters. Its lack of confidence, pulling the mountains over its head as a security blanket, depresses those of us who think it could be more than it is. That’s why, at the opening of Expo 86 on May 2, there is hope that the two diverging forces may meet on the shore of False Creek where the Pacific creeps into the innards of the city. The “strangers” from the rest of Canada may indeed get some feeling for the quirky, iconoclastic vibrations that compose Vancouver, on her 100th birthday. And those of us who love her can only hope that she acts grown-up enough to justify those obscenely opulent promises contained in the travel brochures.
Those coming to Vancouver this summer to see if the fair compares to Expo 67 had best stay home. No one can afford anymore—witness the fact that no
one is attempting anymore—the full “world’s fair” concept that dazzled this country and the world at Montreal. Vancouver could never emulate that bilingual and bicultural joy of that wondrous summer (an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding that had more than a lot to do with the sudden electoral embracing, a year later, of Pierre Elliott Trudeau). But instead of a comparison, there is now something else. Quebec has faded as a Canadian obsession—the passion of its dilemma sucked out of it by both René Lévesque and Pierre Trudeau, old enemies who played out their drama and left that province (and the country) exhausted and eager to turn elsewhere.
And so the time is ripe to see if the celebration of the Canadian spirit can be duplicated in Western Canada. If we cannot afford another Montreal, can we at least afford to shuck our inhibitions one more time and examine the threads that keep us together? It may be that only a flood of California tourists—armed with 130-cent dollars—can solve the fair’s fiduciary prob-^ lems. That would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed: only| Canadians can make this a successful event.
Lovely, quixotic Bennett Columbia is taking quite a ? gamble on this $800-million caper. The recession still 1 has not left Lotusland. It has been stunned by a
continuing Newfoundland-like unemployment rate. The dream of perpetual prosperity, where every carpenter feels it is his heritage under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to own a sailboat and a chalet at Whistler like every lawyer and doctor, has been dashed. The Japanese and Koreans, who have already rented the innards of the resource-rich mountains, now eye enviously the vast open spaces of one of the few frontiers left. B.C.—proud, boasting, obnoxious B.C.—has been brought to her knees. And so she has decided to party.
On the slope rising above the False Creek fair site, there is a soaring “early skyscraper” city hall built during the darkest days of the Depression by a visionary mayor who felt the best thing for the city was a tonic, a boost. Expo 86 has turned into something of the same symbol. Vancouver people really have gone beyond caring about the inevitable soaring deficits and over-budget figures that always plague these extravaganzas. They would just like good reviews, rapturous visitors (and perhaps, 0 God in Her Wisdom, one of those fabled Vancouver summers like 1985 where the air is ambrosia and the sun shines on a town that ranks with Rio and Hong Kong as the most spectacular on this globe).
The last world event hosted in the city was the 1976 United Nations’ Habitat conference on human settlements, which dissolved in the same insane Arab-Israeli, Third World bullying and ranting that turned the town into a way station of New York’s East River. The city, more fondly, remembers one of its richest moments: the 1954 British Commonwealth Games, when Roger Bannister and John Landy lit the sports world aflame with their double four-minute-mile duel, still the most stirring athletic day these eyes have ever seen.
So now Vancouver has the Soviet Union, China and the United States—together in North America for the first time at such a world exposition. There are 52 countries huddled together around the site’s inland sea, not too many years ago the home of seedy sawmills and filthy foundries. The soaring sails of Canada Place across the downtown core on the harbor—if a little too reminiscent of the concrete clam shells of the Sydney Opera House—are a sight to behold. Vancouver doesn’t care about the deficit. Vancouver doesn’t care how many visitors come. Vancouver wants to party. The parties in the Depression—when you didn’t have any money and only a violin and the piano—were the best of all anyway.
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