If the northern climate was not a significant characteristic of the Montréal World’s Fair during the summer of 1967, it was a factor in the sustainability of its architecture. Many of the pavilions were kept open until 1981 as part of what was intended to have been a permanent exhibition, 'Man and his World'. As the pavilions were built as temporary structures, and not built to withstand the harsh Québec winter, most were later abandoned and eventually demolished. The fate of the Soviet pavilion has recently been researched by Fabien Bellat. His findings were presented in a 2012 paper, 'Pavillon de l’URSS, Montréal 1967'.


The action of the science fiction film Quintet (Robert Altman, 1979) takes place during a nuclear winter. The sets are barren and post technological: a snowscape punctuated by derelict modern architecture and frozen machinery. Quintet was shot in the remains of the pavilions of the 1967 Montréal World's Exposition as well as in the territory of Nunavut, Canada. Altman uses the (nuclear) winter setting of Quintet – the expanses of white snow, the ice-encased structures and the fogginess produced by condensation in the cold – to construct a diegesis that exists beyond our understanding of time and space. 


This project maps the locations in the old Expo 67 site that were used in the film, investigating how the representation of the international, modern architecture and design of the Expo pavilions could shift from signifying promise and potential for social betterment to becoming an index of technological catastrophe and social decay. It considers how the architecture of Expo 67 – both as a site of technological spectacle and as an impromptu film set – has disappeared, looking for what is left of these sites and mapping this process of looking. 

The map has three layers: islands shows the islands Notre-Dame and Sainte-Hélène as they were experienced when visited in the fall of 2011; diegesis ia a map of the fictional, post-apocalyptic city where the action of the film Quintet takes place; terre des hommes is a map of 'Man and his World', the themed site of Expo 67.

I visit the island in November, long after the picnickers, the festival-goers, and the Formula 1 fans have left. Remnants of the different recreational facilities, racetrack barriers, fences, and park benches are exposed among the brown grass and leafless trees, mixing with and confusing what might have been the foundations of the pavilions of Expo 67. The geodesic dome of the United States pavilion and the French and Québec pavilions now incorporated into the Casino complex, as well as a few other recycled pavilions, have been restored or renovated. The others were long ago dismantled or left to crumble and removed when the ruins became dangerous. The vast Soviet pavilion was dismantled after the end of the world exposition; it is said to have been shipped to Moscow to be reassembled in the VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy) park there. 


End credits of Quintet   terre_des_hommes_man_and_his_world

Walter Benjamin discussed nineteenth-century world expositions as places of spectacle and alienation. 'They open up a phantasmagoria that people enter to be amused. The entertainment industry facilitates this by elevating people to the level of commodities. They submit to being manipulated while enjoying their alienation from themselves and from others' (Benjamin 1986, 152). Like their nineteenth-century predecessors, the post-war world expositions were, often, artificial spaces that existed outside place, heterotopias with their own logic and geography and modes of operation. But they also existed outside time. 

The Montréal World's Fair was open from 28 April until 29 October 1967; it did not operate during the winter. As such, it was not really experienced as taking place in a northern land. The publicity and documentation of the exhibition showed sunny scenes and visitors in shirtsleeves; the mild climate enjoyed at Expo 67 was that of anywhere and of nowhere.


My interest in Expo 67 is not simply nostalgia for a future in the past, for a time and a place that never really were. Like Expo 58 in Brussels, Montréal’s world exhibition featured artists’ experiments in new forms of immersive image and sound production. These experiments influenced future generations of artists in Québec, including myself, and internationally. Montréal media artist and co-founder of Société des Arts Technologiques Luc Courchesne said in an interview in La Presse (Clément 2011) that his interest in immersive art forms began when he visited Expo 67 as an adolescent.


One of these productions was the architect-composer Iannis Xenakis’s Polytope for Montréal, which was installed and performed in the French Pavilion. This influential immersive sound and light work (purportedly) remained installed until 1992 when the building was transformed to house the Casino de Montréal.


terre des hommes


Altman, Robert. 1979. ‘QUINTET’, Robert Altman interviewed by James Delson, Fantastic Films, June, pp. 24–35.

Barthes, Roland. 1975. ‘En sortant du cinéma’, Communications, 23: 104–7.

Bellat, Fabien. 2012. ‘Pavillon de l’URSS, Montréal 1967’, paper presented at Conférences à la Maison de l’Architecture du Québec, Montréal, 27–28 August 2012.

Benjamin, Walter. [1978] 1986. ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’, in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed. by Peter Demetz, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, New York: Schocken Books, pp. 146–162.

Borm, Jan. 2012. ‘Yakutsk, lieu de mémoire sibérien et européen interculturel’, paper given at the 7th International Multidisciplinary Conference of the International Laboratory for the Comparative Multidisciplinary Study of Representations of the North, Montréal.

Clément, Éric. 2011. ‘Luc Courchesne saute dans le vide à Toronto’, La Presse, 27 January, cahier ‘Affaires’, www.lapresse.ca/arts/arts-visuels/201101/27/01-4364201-luc-courchesne-saute-dans-le-vide-a-toronto.php [accessed 2 December 2013].

Davidson, Peter. 2005. The Idea of North, Topographics, London: Reaktion Books.

Lyons, Steve. 2009. ‘Memory of a Post-Apocalyptic Future: Whitening Skeletons and Frozen Time in Robert Altman’s Quintet and Expo 67’s Man the Explorer Pavilion’, Montreal as Palimpsest: Graduate Research in Montreal’s Architectural and Urban Histories, Concordia University, http://cityaspalimpsest.concordia.ca/palimpsest_II_en/papers/Steve_Lyons.pdf [accessed  2 December 2013].

Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy L. Stenchikov. 2007. ‘Nuclear Winter Revisited with a Modern Climate Model and Current Nuclear Arsenals: Still Catastrophic Consequences’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 112 (D13107), http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/RobockNW2006JD008235.pdf [accessed 3 December 2013].

Ross, Christine. 1996. Images de surface: l’art vidéo reconsidéré, Montréal: Artexte. 

Smithson, Robert. [1971] 1996. ‘A Cinematic Atopia’, in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. by Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press), pp. 138–42.



Further information on Expo 67 can be found at the Library and Archives Canada archived web page for Expo 67.