World Fair 2030 – Montreal hosted the world’s fair in 1967 and it was a heady time for Montrealers. With its theme of “Man and his World,” Expo 67 was the high point of Canada’s Centennial celebrations showcasing our ingenuity and achievements to the world. Few would quibble that Expo 67 (or Expo for short) put Canada on the map of the “global village” a catchphrase from the 1960s coined by Canadian philosopher and media guru Marshall McLuhan. Montreal was “cool” in the vernacular of the 60s, meaning it was a fun place with a creative edge. Two years ago on Expo’s 50th anniversary, the McCord Stewart Museum hosted an exhibition on this milestone event Fashioning Expo 67 highlighting Expo’s modern mix of fashion, art, architecture, technology, and design. More than a dozen Expo-themed events took place that year in Greater Montreal.
The Montreal Métro from World Fair 67
The Montreal Métro was inaugurated in 1966 during Mayor Jean Drapeau’s tenure and connected Montreal to Île Sainte-Hélène (and later Île Notre-Dame) the chosen sites for Expo 67. Drapeau saw the Métro as a symbol of innovation for Montréal, part of his vision to establish Montreal as a modern, world-class city. The Métro, Expo 67, and the 1976 Summer Olympics are indisputably Drapeau’s legacy projects. The Métro moreover is an integral part of Expo 67’s history for if the rapid transit system hadn’t been built Expo wouldn’t have happened.
Expo 67 world’s fair
Expo 67 cost close to $436 million and ended up with a deficit of nearly $211 million. Despite its costs, the iconic Expo 67 world’s fair still looms large in the minds of many of a certain age and has cachet for the younger generation as well. Marvin Rotrand, the Dean of Montreal City Council, thinks we can do it again and would like Montreal to host a world’s fair in 2030. He’s sent a joint letter to Valerie Plante and opposition Leader Lionel Perez in an effort to forge a consensus at City Council for an exploratory committee to examine a bid by Montreal for the 2030 World’s Fair. “The bidding opens in two years and I was hoping that we could get a head start,” he says.
Some World’s Fairs make money
He knows that there will be naysayers given the massive costs. “Some World’s Fairs make money, this one (Expo 67) didn’t but it transformed Montreal,” he says. “All World’s Fairs have major intangible spin-offs from spurring tourism, putting a city on the world map, and attracting foreign investment.” Rotrand is known for being fiscally responsible and has been at the forefront of the drive for efficient public transit. He’s also a longtime advocate for minority rights and inclusion. He believes that an Expo 30 could help pull the city back together again after years of divisive debates and shore up our sense of shared identity while providing a trajectory to relaunch Montreal.
The intrepid city councillor for the Snowdon district in the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough has been fighting the good fight for Montreal for 36 years, no mean feat. He’s banking on garnering enough public support to kickstart the discussion for another world’s fair here one which must engage the powers that be in Ottawa & Quebec City and not just Montreal. Inevitably, the question arises as to why the City of Montreal should take on this kind of project when so many vital services are wanting and things need fixing.
Montreal public transportation must be expanded and improved first
World Fair 2030 for Montreal is a great idea but public transportation must be expanded and improved first. This is Rotrand’s area of expertise. From 2002 to 2017, he served as the Vice-Chair of the Montreal Transit Commission and later had a brief stint on the STM’s board of directors. He was awarded a prize by the Canadian Urban Transit Association for Distinguished Service to Transit in Canada after being booted from the board for evidently partisan reasons. Still, Rotrand could leverage his know-how and contacts to rally support for a Montreal world’s fair if improved public transit was a component of a sustainable project. Besides favoring a green economy the Montreal Métro is the fastest most efficient means of moving large numbers of people around Greater Montreal. Upgrading the subway system and bus network is a priority when considering a mega-project like a world’s fair that would bring millions of tourists into the island-city putting pressure on our already strained transportation system.
Modernizing transportation means more than simply expanding the existing métro system by adding a “Pink Line” – a pet project of Mayor Valérie Plante – putting more buses on the roads, moving to 100% electrification, or constructing the REM. Current weather forecasts make clear that we are experiencing more extreme weather conditions than ever before yet there is a disconnect between the continual virtue-signaling over climate change and the lack of provision of “cool resources” to enable citizens to cope as the planet purportedly heats up. Nowhere is this gap in service more glaring than in the area of public transit.
Few of the buses are air-conditioned, unlike Ottawa’s buses and those of other cities. While the strategic plan of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) calls for growth in ridership this involves making public transportation more attractive. Come summer, the old métro cars are sweat-boxes with passengers crammed in like sardines during rush hour. The new AZUR metro train’s ventilation system creates an annoying wind tunnel providing some relief from the heat but this still doesn’t cut it in the midst of a heatwave. Why not call a cab, schedule a ride with Uber, or rent a car in the dog days of July when most tourists descend on our fair city? Better to cool your heels in an air-conditioned car than risk heatstroke from heat exhaustion in an overcrowded bus or métro car. Of course, more cars on the roads mean worse traffic congestion and more pollution but for reasons that aren’t clear in Quebec, Legault’s Government hasn’t connected the dots yet between investing in public transit full-stop and traffic-calming measures.
There is an ongoing debate about whether access to air-conditioning is a human right along with other rights like equality, privacy, freedom of expression, food, clothing, housing and time off work. After all, Canada has laws against turning off the heat on a tenant in the winter. Why shouldn’t everyone have equal access to cool air in the summer? The World Health Organization (WHO) states that air conditioning offers immediate protection from heatwaves, as well as from the impacts of heavy outdoor air pollution hotspots but adds a cautionary note: A/C is highly energy-intensive, with significant demands for electricity and fossil fuel use which can undermine energy security. The debate isn’t merely academic. Every year in mid-July news media report on the mounting death toll from extreme heat and humidity. The refrain is always the same: the deceased didn’t have access to A/C or “cool places” and their deaths were preventable. Meanwhile, Environment Canada issues heat alerts emphasizing the risks to individuals with pre-existing health conditions. So, how do we balance these competing priorities?
À Montréal, on bouge!
Getting Montrealers moving is a signature initiative of Mayor Valérie Plante. À Montréal, on bouge! So goes the slogan. The problem Rotrand says is that Plante’s Projet Montréal administration has an inordinate focus on cycling. Everywhere along the urban corridor, you can spot helmeted cyclists peddling to and from work in their perspiration-soaked button-downs. It’s obvious to even a casual observer that cycling has fused with the sports and fitness culture despite pretensions of being a green alternative to cars. However, the world isn’t made up only of young, fit, fashionistas. Demographics belie an aging population and any serious public transit policy ought to take this fact into account. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough seats on buses or in métro cars the assumption being that commuters can stand. By the same token, outdoor benches are largely a thing of the past.
The métro system actually has no heating. So in the winter, the entire network of tunnels is heated by the train movement, adjoining buildings, as well as the body heat of passengers. This may be ecologically sound in theory but the design is flawed. The same factors exacerbated by overcrowding create conditions for overheating when the outdoor temperature warms. To neglect to provide effective cooling in the public transit system in summer is a health hazard and can only encourage travel by car despite problems motorists face with road and bridge closures as the annual “orange cone festival” gets underway in the good ole summertime.
A bid to host a world’s fair
Everyone knows that we need better and more efficient transportation options. Public officials at all levels need to get serious about revamping public transit regardless of whether the City of Montreal makes a bid to host a world’s fair here in 2030. On the other hand, what some might call a vanity project might be the catalyst to generate the enthusiasm and thinking outside the box that is so necessary to find creative solutions to complex problems and worthwhile challenges.