CANADA/SPECIAL REPORT

EXPO'S ROYAL DEBUT

JANE O'HARA May 12 1986
CANADA/SPECIAL REPORT

EXPO'S ROYAL DEBUT

JANE O'HARA May 12 1986

EXPO'S ROYAL DEBUT

CANADA/SPECIAL REPORT

True to Vancouver’s reputation, it rained. The predicted crowds— although the first arrivals came early—were slow to gather. The monorail stalled for 20 minutes. But in the end, and after months of political controversy, the opening of Expo 86 last week—attended by 107,100—was a royal triumph of fanfares and dancing, fireworks and applause. And with advance ticket sales equivalent to 15 million visits, the official outlook for the 5½-month world’s fair was equally upbeat.

Wealthy: One telling demonstration of popular enthusiasm for the fair emerged at the opening-day ceremonies in B.C. Place stadium. A year ago, when British Columbia’s Premier Bill Bennett appeared in the domed stadium, 30,000 people booed him. But at Expo’s formal inauguration in the same arena last Friday, a crowd of 60,000 applauded the premier. As Prince Charles, Diana, Princess of Wales and the representatives of 54

participating nations looked on, it was clear that the global scale of the fair had inspired a mood that transcended provincial politics.

Reinforcing the excitement were the shouted greetings for the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the cheers that greeted the formal opening of the fair by Prince Charles. Polite clapping greeted a brief speech by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. And a standing ovation paid tribute to Expo president James Pattison, the wealthy former used-car salesman who worked for five years at a token $1 a year to put the $1.5-billion transport and communications show on the road on time.

Mystical: The first customers were treated to a lively swirl of creativity that ranged from high art to hard sell. By the weekend the gems of the 170acre waterfront fair site had already been established: Ramses n, an exhibit of 97 ancient Egyptian artifacts, and

General Motors’ mystical and magical show Spirit Lodge, an oddly antitechnology presentation that uses a live performer as an Indian storyteller who illustrates his tales with smoky holographic images.

Sleek: Although the exhibits are designed to educate and entertain, many displays aim to advertise and sell. China’s pavilion displays a model train that hints at the theme of transportation and communication. But much of the pavilion space is given over to a gift store. Among the items on sale: a Chinese personal computer called The Great Wall that is compatible with IBM data programs. In the Soviet pavilion, alongside a space-travel theme, visitors can purchase Sputnik sausages for $2.25 or Siberian frozen orange drinks for $2.75. Expo 86’s commissioner, Patrick Reid, was concerned from the outset that some exhibitors would turn the fair into an international bazaar.

But last week Reid said, “They have stuck to the theme better than I thought they would.”

The Expo theme—World in Motion, World in Touch—accurately described the fair site itself, as a kaleidoscope of fairgoers rubbed shoulders and strolled around the site on the opening weekend. While a sleek silver monorail snaked overhead on its looping 5.4-km journey, two gondolas ferried passengers on an airborne cable cruise over the pavilions. Vancouver’s $l-billion rapid transit system—SkyTrain—was also given a thorough workout, transporting passengers from Expo’s False Creek waterfront site to the Canada pavilion on Burrard Inlet, a four-minute journey.

Rescue: There seemed to be something for everyone at Expo. The fair’s 60 international, provincial and corporate pavilions form nothing less than a global community on the shores of False Creek, an inlet which divides the downtown core from Vancouver’s south side. The international pavilions are housed in specially designed modular boxes supported by steel struts, giving the fair a skyline of silver scaffolding. Hong Kong’s pavilion is covered in a bamboo lattice. Japan’s pavilion exterior is covered in a series of colorful reproductions of old Japanese wood-block road maps. Inside, visitors confront the world’s largest model transportation exhibit—soon to be registered in the Guinness Book of World Records—with moving trains, gondolas and cars illustrating in miniature the difficulties of moving millions of commuters on the island nation. Japanese officials resigned themselves to reallife traffic problems in the pavilion itself. As Japan’s Expo commissioner general, Kunio Katakura, predicted before the opening, “When kids see this, they will not move.”

A 20-minute walk away, the Soviet Union proclaims its presence with a soaring, brushed-tin-sculpted statue of the world’s first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. Arms outstretched, the Gagarin statue hovers over the pavilion entrance like an archangel of Soviet Realism extending a welcome to the kingdom of space technology. The Soviet Union’s pavilion promises to be one of the fair’s showstoppers. Included in the exhibits are life-size models of the Soyuz/Salyut space station and the Sarsat rescue system—a joint project with the United States, Canada and France that pinpoints downed planes and ships in trouble and directs rescuers to the spot. Coincidentally, the only Soviet city featured in the pavilion is Kiev, the major population centre in the region of last week’s disastrous nuclear power station meltdown. The 1,500-year-old Kiev is proclaimed

“the father of Soviet cities.”

The U.S. pavilion also focuses on space travel. Despite the smiling hosts and hostesses smartly dressed in powder-blue astronaut jumpsuits, the pavilion opens on a sombre note with a memorial gallery dedicated to the 10 astronauts killed in America’s 28-yearold space program—including the seven who died in January in the space shuttle Challenger explosion. “We wanted to acknowledge the whole tragedy right away at the beginning,” said Jack Cannon, a spokesman for the pavilion. A winding corridor of television monitors provides nostalgic glimpses of U.S. firsts in space, notably the 1969 landing on the moon and the 1965 space walk. A movie featuring an earsplitting blast-off serves as the overture to a vast chamber designed to convey the sense of spatial void.

Sensory: In keeping with the fair’s transportation theme, the site is jampacked with exhibits demonstrating almost every conveyance known. In one witty pastiche, the Italian pavilion dug into the past for a Roman chariot and reached into the future for a hightech one-piece racing bicycle made of titanium and carbon. The Germans, French and British, as well as the Japanese, all brought model examples of their high-speed trains. And a certifiable hit of the fair was bound to be The Roundhouse, a renovated train maintenance shed once owned by CP

Rail. There, a Czechoslovak design team called Studio Shape has assembled a fanciful collection of inventions, real and imagined, that celebrates 19th-century ingenuity.

In most cases, however, the exhibits of cars, carts, boats and winged craft are more prosaic, and the overall effect is sometimes repetitive. The endless banks of video walls—TV screens that do little more than advertise commer-

cial products—may produce sensory overload among footsore visitors. Remarked fairgoer Ralph Richey of Coquitlam, B.C: “There are so many examples of wheels and motors that after a while it gets kind of redundant. You can only take so much of this World-in-Motion stuff.”

Whimsical: Still, the host country’s national, provincial and territorial pavilions offer diversity, ingenuity and vitality. The 10 Canadian governmental exhibits include the eye-catching Canada pavilion, seven provincial exhibits—all but Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Manitoba—and captivating displays by the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The Canada pavilion is literally the flagshipstanding by itself like a landlocked ship under five white glass-fibre sails on Burrard Inlet, north of the main fair site. There, visitors are welcomed by a whimsical goose and beaver show, the feathered and furry creatures played by two actors. Then, ! viewers watch a seven-minute audiovisual presentation called Canada, a Celebration—a sequence of picturepostcard glimpses of the country—in a 500-seat theatre. The audience is then transported on a revolving turntable into an adjoining theatre for Donald Brittain’s eight-minute masterpiece, Earthwatch, a historical travelogue that cinematically renders the geographical and social expanse of Canada. The pavilion’s centrepiece is the Great Hall, which interprets

transportation through the eyes of prominent Canadian artists and inventors—for example, in a flying machine by Ontario’s Alex Wyse.

Smaller in scope, the seven provincial and two territorial pavilions compete strongly for attention. Saskatchewan’s 10-storey mirrored grain elevator is one of the fair’s most striking architectural sights, transformed from a glittering silver at midday to a burnished shaft of golden wheat at evening’s last light. The province’s perky attendants enliven the exhibit, although few hostesses are likely to challenge the Yukon’s for candor. Said Dawne Dawson, 31, a champion arm wrestler from Dawson City, explaining why she left her job operating heavy machinery to work at the Yukon pavilion: “I figured that out of 15,000 employees at Expo there’d be some goodlooking guys.”

Trembling: Dressed in bright tones of yellow, red and blue, the high-spirited architecture of Alberta’s pavilion is likely to inspire strong sentiments, pro and con. Two glass-fibre dinosaurs nicknamed Spiro and Louise guard the entrance—the first of a series of visual jokes. The rest of the display is a casual but esthetic romp through the heartland of cowboys, oil country and grain elevators.

Ontario’s huge $27-million edifice sits at the eastern extremity of the main site and provides a towering view of the fairgrounds. Built of durable concrete and steel, it could last 300 years, according to Toronto architect Michael Miller, who designed the exhibit space. But along with all but a handful of Expo structures, it is scheduled to be torn down by next January to make way for urban redevelopment of the False Creek area. In the most startling effect, fairgoers walk through a doorway filled with light and stage smoke and emerge at the bottom of a cinematic Niagara Falls with the ground trembling beneath their feet and the mind-numbing sound of rushing water in their ears.

Election: British Columbia’s two-building host pavilion is dedicated to the twin themes of discovery and challenge. Four socalled Discovery Trees— each in fact a circular elevator—line the interior of a blue-glassed, Pattison: ovation cathedral-shaped building. Although the concept of the technology displayed inside the elevators by guides and tapes is advanced, the content of the message at times resem-

bles a campaign speech for Bennett’s Social Credit government, which is expected to call an election later this year. Playwright and musician John Gray, however, has infused the pavilion with a sense of effervescence, designing nine sets and mini-musicals for celebrations of the province’s nine tourist regions by a roving group of performers.

Ingenious: A jewel in its own right, the Yukon shines with a highly charged 10-minute audiovisual evocation — r part historical, part conz temporary—of the rees gion’s mountains and o rivers. And the Northwest Territories offers a strong message of its own character with a subtly arranged exhibit using mirrors to reflect and rearrange its land and culture. Said visitor Kathyrn Pauly of Toronto, who

said that she was impressed with both territorial pavilions on opening day: “They made you want to get on the first train or plane.”

Corporate participants offered film shows —from Canadian National’s three-dimensional IMAX movie to Telecom Canada’s ingenious circle-vision production, Portraits of Canada. The previews prompted some critics to predict lineup crowds for the unique shows.

Some customers, forewarned by preshow enthusiasm, took steps to avoid a crush. Although Expo’s gates were not scheduled to open until 10 a.m., the first visitors moved through the turnstiles at 8:30. Among them was Jim Ewen, 32, an unemployed logger from Okanagan Falls, B.C., who came early to beat the crowds. Said Ewan: “I don’t like lineups. We don’t have them in the Okanagan.”

-JANE O’HARA, with JOHN BARBER, PAUL GESSELL, DIANE LUCKOW and DAVID NORTH in Vancouver

JANE O'HARA

JOHN BARBER

PAUL GESSELL

DIANE LUCKOW

DAVID NORTH