Friday 24 May 2019

Passport to Man and His World: Expo '67 and the Christian Pavilion

From April to October 1967, Canada's centennial year, Montreal hosted 62 countries and over 50 million visitors for a world's fair: the much acclaimed Expo '67.

Though large fairs were held before it, the first world's fair is commonly considered to be London's Great Exhibition of 1851. Nations and manufacturers from around the world contributed cultural and industrial displays for the six million visitors. Canada sent a canoe. Over almost two centuries these fairs have been a place to wow crowds with the latest technological advancements, exchange ideas, and share cultures.

The theme of Expo '67 was 'Man and his World,' addressing "universal problems of humanity" and "man's social responsibility and environmental consciousness." Attractions included the space capsule in which the first man orbited the earth, and the geodesic dome that can still be seen on its island location in the St. Lawrence River.

Toronto's Bishop Allen kept his season's pass that allowed him unlimited visits during the expo. It had pages to collect stamps from the various national exhibits.

Bishop Allen's Season's Pass to Expo '67

AL AA12.05
Bishop Allen Fonds

Instead of building their own display, the Catholic Church in Canada chose to participate with six other Christian groups to erect the Christian Pavilion. Their endevour is best described in their own words:

(April 14, 1967. PO SU 35.30, Archbishop Pocock Fonds)

The organizing committee provided missalettes for Catholic congregations to promote the Pavilion and raise funds: 

"Expo '67 will be an unprecedented achievement in the history of Christianity. This is the Christian Pavilion. Seven Christian churches, after several months of meetings and exchanges, have decided to erect together a Christian Pavilion which can proclaim to the world that God has made himself flesh to live among us and that he is present at everything that happens on the land of men.

"Today Catholics are called upon to do their part in this common endeavour which gives rise to much hope. Give according to your means but generously."

May 29, 1966

PO SU35.26
Archbishop Pocock Fonds

The architecture of the pavilion was described this way:
"The architecture of the Pavilion has been entrusted to the associated architects, Roger d'Astous and Jean-Paul Pothier of Montreal. These two architects are well-known throughout Canada ... The shape of the roof, which recalls that of arms uplifted to the Lord, tries to signify that the Christian welcomes the entire universe so that he might offer it to God in a perpetual Eucharist. The cross at the entrance is not identified with the Christian religion any more than with any other religion; it is the "taw" (Greek) which is found among the most primitive Christian symbols. The small building at the extreme right is to welcome visitors and to house the administrative services. It covers a little more than a thousand square feet. There is a garden in front of the central portion. Fed by a fountain with a water spout, a little pond adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the entrance of the Pavilion. The part of the building devoted to the Exhibit itself consists of three levels: a first level, almost square with the entrance, a second level lower, and a third level reached by a slight incline. These architectural data serve the setting itself. Indeed, the visitor is welcomed as he is; then led to take consciousness of the great problems of mankind, by himself passing through a kind of crucible, and finally invited to that burst of hope provided by the gospel of Christ. The presentation takes place on a surface of 7,800 square feet. The walls are in white stucco. The roof is in laminated wood." (February 14, 1966. PO SU35.24. Archbishop Pocock Fonds)

A poster asking parishioners to do their part to support the Christian Pavilion at Expo '67.

PO SU35.34c

Archbishop Pocock Fonds

The Christian Pavilion was well-received by visitors. One reviewer claimed, "it is not only one of the best exhibits at the fair but a moving example of how the Gospel can be presented to late 20th century man in a vigorous contemporary idiom" (Harvey Cox: Commonweal, May 26, 1967). It was truly a reflection of growing ecumenism combined with contemporary media practices.

Expo 2020 will be held in Dubai. In just one trip you'll be able to see over 190 countries. Time to start planning your vacation! 

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