In Canada, in May, Great Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana stepped from a royal barge in Vancouver, to receive a traditional Musqueam Indian greeting and to formally open EXPO 86 - which could be one of the century's more successful world expositions.
One reason for Vancouver's hopeful expectations is the fair's catchy theme: "The world in motion, the world in touch." Unlike the theme of Knoxville's 1982 fair - energy - Vancouver's focus on achievements in transportation and communications seems to have stirred a response. So far five million visitors have shown up to look at - and marvel at - the achievements and advances of those fulcrums of civilization as presented by 54 nations, nine Canadian provinces and territories, three U.S. west coast states and some 35 corporate sponsors.
As anyone with access to radio, television or newspapers must already know, Expo 86 is what the International Bureau of Expositions, which sanctions such affairs, calls a "special category world exposition." What they may not realize, however, is that the very process of advertising Expo 86 and their own travel to get there prove the importance of its theme.
The Vancouver exhibition, appropriately, will mark two important anniversaries in Canadian history in 1986: the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first transcontinental train - and the centennial of Vancouver itself.
It was much earlier, of course - 1782 -when Captain George Vancouver, an English explorer searching for the Northwest Passage, sailed into the magnificent, densely forested snow-capped regions around the inlet now called Burrard Inlet.
Even then the region was not uninhabited. Captain Vancouver, whose name would be given to the city that grew there, was met by about 50 Musqueam Indians in canoes, who, he reported in his log, "conducted themselves with the greatest decorum and civility." But nearly a century would pass before European settlers followed in any numbers and it was not until 1886 that the city was incorporated.
For Vancouver, 1886 was an important year. As soon as it was incorporated, a great fire leveled its frame buildings to ashes and the city fathers had to rebuild from scratch. Then, in November, Canada's first transcontinental railroad pushed through the mountains to a terminus on Vancouver's False Creek and set the city's course for the future.
Now another century has passed, and with 1.2 million persons, Greater Vancouver is Canada's third largest city. Just 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the U.S. border, it is a modern metropolis of manicured lawns, flowering trees and towering skyscrapers in the shadow of a primeval wilderness. The city's temperate climate is moderated winter and summer by passing ocean currents, and its beauty has been compared to that of Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong and like the happy Beirut of a decade ago, Vancouver also boasts that within an hour's drive on a sunny spring day her citizens can frolic both in the snow and on her shores.
Almost equidistant between Europe and the Far East, Vancouver's magnificent harbor is the largest cargo port on the Pacific Coast of North or South America and Canada's link to the dynamic, prosperous nations of the Pacific rim. In an astonishing transformation, what was a brawling frontier town 100 years ago has become a gracious international home - whose residents include Japanese, Chinese and East Indian descendants, as well as those of her early European settlers and native Americans.
In 1978, a group of Vancouver businessmen decided that both those centennials should be celebrated and later, when the governments of British Columbia and Canada agreed, the businessmen decided to invite the world to join the celebration. With the shining example of Montreal's 1967 World Exposition before them, the businessmen then cast their eyes on 70 hectares (173 acres) of neglected waterfront flanking the skyscrapers and parks of downtown Vancouver - and began eight years of single-minded planning and building.
Those years were not without problems. Problems ran the gamut from leaky roofs in prefabricated pavilion modules to major shakeups at Expo's top management level. As in Knoxville, there were also charges of rent increases and even evictions by city landlords looking forward to more profitable Expo rentals, as well as clashes between unions and non-union contractors over Exposition construction, and demonstrations by students and social activists.
At one point, University of British Columbia economists also objected. They argued that investments in renewable resources would be more beneficial to the province's depressed economy - and they may have a point. Earlier, the city of Chicago, hoping to recapture the success of its now legendary 1934-35 fair, took a close look at Vancouver's figures and projections and scrubbed the idea. As one Vancouver critic pointed out: "It's the classic bread or circus debate. The $300 to $400 million which Expo is budgeted to lose is roughly the amount which has been cut from provincial education programs over the past four years."
Expo backers saw it differently, eventually plowing more than $1.5 billion (Canadian) into the project, business sponsors alone committing $180 million, more than the total corporate investment at 1984's Los Angeles Olympics - excluding television rights. By the time Queen Elizabeth visited Vancouver in 1983, so much had been accomplished that she felt justified in issuing, in her capacity as head of the British Commonwealth, a formal invitation to world governments to participate. Eventually, 54 responded and in 1985 fair officials launched a $90-million promotional campaign by releasing 1,986 helium-filled balloons - some with airfare vouchers to Vancouver attached - inviting the Canadian, North American and world public.
Expo's backers were determined to show that "Canada is a nation of doers, a people of achievement," as Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said at the opening-day ceremony in the covered 60,000-seat British Columbia Stadium, adjoining the Expo site. His audience included Prince Charles - whose mother, the Queen, had inaugurated the stadium during her 1983 visit - and, to everyone's delight, Princess Diana. Together on May 2, they opened Expo 86.
"Expo 86 is like a ship under full sail," Mulroney told the guests assembled in Vancouver and the world - via the same 20th-century communications miracles that the fair is celebrating - ".. .Preparing for a voyage into the next century. Come to Vancouver. Come to Canada. What a welcome and what a world await you here."
The spirit of welcome is undeniable. On opening day a retired couple who had driven some 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) across Canada from Newfoundland stepped through a ceremonial Expo turnstile to become, officially, the first visitors, shook hands with beaming businessmen, greeted Expo Ernie, the fair's robot mascot, and led in the first thousands of tourists who had come to see what the fuss was about. What they saw - and what at least 13 million more will see, according to mid-May ticket sales - is a dazzling, educational, thought-provoking, sometimes uplifting and always friendly example of people in motion, people in touch.
Set up on the shores of False Creek, a protected, finger-like inlet of the Pacific just south of downtown Vancouver, the main Expo site is a marvelous mix of science and showmanship, with international, provincial and corporate pavilions, exuberant plazas, exciting theaters, good restaurants and fun-filled discos. In addition, at Burrard Inlet, the city's main harbor in the north, there's a second site: Canada Piace and the Canada Pavilion - symbolically under full sail beneath five soaring white ridges of Teflon tent. This complex includes a number of innovative theaters, a cruise ship terminal, a luxury hotel and convention center, and both sites are linked by a free, four-minute ride aboard the city's gleaming new regional rapid transit system.
One element that is instantly visible is color. Expo planners divided the False Creek site into six color zones, a concept which allows visitors to explore the basically linear grounds amid buildings, benches and flamboyant banners all painted or dyed in vibrant Day-Glo hues, splendid when the sun is shining, as it does most of the time during a typical Vancouver summer. Indeed, the yellows, greens, pinks, blues, reds and purples of Expo 86 have the fluorescence of spring tulips in Holland. The flower beds are bursting with blooms - not just tulips - all coordinated with their zone color. They'll be replanted twice again as the seasons move toward the October closing.
Expo's transportation theme is commemorated in three light-hearted plazas where fanciful and authentic ships, aircraft and land vehicles have become sculptural pieces which play before the eyes like larger-than-life, three-dimensional cartoons. At the west end of the site, for example, there is a Marine Plaza dominated by a towering steel Dream Ship, turquoise and hot pink, with dozens of stiff white sails, and iron sea monsters cavorting in its undulating, painted concrete wake. Nearby is the International Harbor, where traditional boats of every shape and age ride at anchor. One is a Thai fishing boat, painted in eye-filling folk patterns; another, a Pakistani dhow, similar to those on which Arab seamen once sailed the monsoon winds (See Aramco World, March-April 1974 and September-October 1981). On the wharf visitors can watch a team of Indonesian boat builders construct a native sailing vessel - a Pinisi - and in a small pool ashore, Canadian hobbyists demonstrate radio-controlled model boats.
There is also an Aviation Plaza, a riot of colorful flying machines suspended like kites inside a towering cubical frame, and a Land Plaza, with an amazing "International Traffic Jam," which sets sculptured camels, an elephant and a bullock cart amid motorcycles, a double-decker bus, a gypsy cart and a crazy congregation of folk-decorated native vehicles from around the globe (See Aramco World, March-April 1969). Nearby, 214-meter-long Highway 86 (702 feet), billed as "a relic from a future archeological dig," rises out of False Creek in waves of broad white concrete ribbon trafficked by the gray ghosts of what surely must be every transportation device employed by modern man, from submarine to skateboard to snowshoes. Both the International Traffic Jam and Highway 86 swarm daily with families posing for pictures, beside and astride the exhibits and sculptures, and other visitors watching them.
UFO-H2O is another playful sculpture which attracts shutterbugs and kids. A monumental flying saucer, with a green-headed pilot, it spurts dozens of computerized jets of water arching over and toward the dodging humanoids beneath it. There is another "flying saucer" at the Canadian pavilion too - a helium-filled "aerodyne" doughnut with central reversible fans, cruising ethereally over visitors' heads. This though, is not real; it's a model of a new aircraft already being used for logging in wilderness regions of British Columbia.
The Canadian provincial pavilions, like the corporate pavilions, have distinctive individual architectural designs. The Northwest Territories is iceberg, Alberta and Saskatchewan are grain silos of colorful wood and mirrored glass, and mountain climbers scale the outside of Alberta's pavilion regularly throughout the day. Ontario chose a crescent-shaped tent; host British Columbia a complex that includes a covered plaza and open-air theater beside a mountain glade and a splendid glass greenhouse.
In designing the international pavilions Expo planners faced two problems: time and uncertainty: how many countries would sign up, and when? The eventual total - 54 - set a record for expositions in the Western Hemisphere. The creek site, on the other hand, offered advantages: building materials and exhibits could be delivered directly by barge. They also had a building style that was easy to assemble: uniform, prefabricated, tubular steel-supported modules of 250 square meters each. Several large countries, emulated China, which joined six modules to create its pavilion, which features popular models of the Great Wall and a 2,000-year-old bronze chariot as well as a communications satellite. Other countries, such as Cuba, confined themselves to one module.
The modules came in basic white plywood and it was up to each country to distinguish its facade and design its interior. Singapore transformed its two modules into a covered arcade bazaar, with shops typical of its ethnic mix: Chinese, Indian and Muslim Malays. Malaysia wrapped itself in a fringe of stylized bright green palm trees. Hong Kong's was shaped into a large yellow packing crate symbolizing its export and building trades. At the United Nations Pavilion, planners tried to view Planet Earth as seen from space - with no flags or political boundaries - while more prosaically, Switzerland draped its facade with the world's largest wristwatch, Peru filled its darkened interior with cases of shining, finely-wrought Inca gold and Indonesia built a brick Balinese gate outside its entrance. Inside Indonesia's pavilion, visitors could play a remarkable collection of drums - hanging hollow logs, each with its own distinctive carving and tone and could watch hostesses drawing on cloth with hot wax, in a step-by-step demonstration of making batik.
Everyone had something to tout. Korea publicized the upcoming 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul with stadium models, Alberta previewed the Calgary Winter Olympics and Spain tried to whet appetites for the 1992 World Exposition planned in Seville.
Two of the key pavilions, naturally, were those of the U.S.A. (six modules) and the U.S.S.R. (10), and, inevitably, visitors have begun to draw comparisons, especially since both focus on space exploration. The U.S. featured a six-minute, big-screen film of a shuttle lift-off and a scale model of a prototype space station due to be orbited in 1992, and the Soviet Union featured a 33-meter-long (108foot) mockup of a 35-ton space station. The U.S.S.R. also offered a 15-meter-high statue (49 foot) of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth - just 25 years ago. The verdict of many visitors seems to give the U.S.S.R. pavilion, despite its curiously old-fashioned look and oppressively heavy-handed peace message, a slight edge over that of the United States.
Washington state won the best reviews of the three Pacific coast states, though California's displays of the actual Apollo 14 command module which launched the first manned landing on the moon, and the tricks of movie-making technology were crowd pleasers.
Saudi Arabia, the only Arab nation represented at Expo 86, presented a thoughtfully balanced mix of modern developments in transportation and communications, the timeless message of Islam and the crafts and lore of a traditional desert environment which, by the end of June, was drawing a steady stream of visitors. Although the kingdom had successfully mounted exhibitions at such past fairs as Osaka, Japan (See Aramco World, July-August 1970) and Knoxville (Aramco World, July-August 1982), Saudi planners were visibly pleased when its Vancouver pavilion drew some 48,000 persons during its extended opening weekend.
Other Muslim countries represented included the tiny oil state of Brunei Darussalam (the Abode of Peace), where pavilion manager Mohammed Zaini Bagul was busily stamping visitors' Expo "Passports" and passing out souvenir postcards of Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, with itsappealing juxtaposition of Middle Eastern and Oriental architectural styles. Pakistan's single module was so chock full of Islamic motifs and patterns - on ceramics, calligraphy, printed cloth, applique, embroidery, carpets, wood carving, copper engraving, stone inlay - that it was like a walk through a jewel box, and a lavishly decorated bus from Kashmir was especially attractive to children.
Another fine Middle Eastern exhibition was the Great Hall of Ramses II (See box). A breathtaking exhibit, it was sponsored by Expo's organizers, not Egypt, and included Egyptian gold and statuary previously seen" in North America only in Montreal and Knoxville, Tennessee. Another Expo-sponsored pavilion was the Roundhouse, a restored section of the original terminus of the first transcontinental railroad. It featured in one wing an outstanding holographic exhibition called "The Spectral Image," and in the other, lovingly restored, fancifully displayed antique automobiles and engines.
The Roundhouse, incidentally, is one of four "Legacy Buildings" at the exposition-buildings which will not be dismantled. The others are Canada Place, British Columbia Place, and Expo Center, the 17-story geodesic dome with its two incredible film theaters at the east gate of the site. When the chill and damp of winter end Expo 86 in October, all other buildings will be demolished and moved off the site to make way for proposed urban development projects.
But October still lies in the future. For now the fun continues. Throughout history and in all cultures, one way all peoples have communicated is through entertainment. As 1985's "Live Aid" concert and May's "Sport Aid" showed, this pleasant form of communication can now touch millions simultaneously, and at Expo 86, visitors looking for live performers are not to be disappointed, be they fans of classical music, pop singing, folk dancing or street juggling.
For starters, fair planners scheduled more than 23,000 free, on-site performances from May to October, 14,000 at False Creek and 9,000 at Canada Place. They are an eclectic blend of the finest traditional elements with the wonderful and unique. "We've tried to steer clear of the 'homogenized culture' syndrome," one official said.
They have. The four major Expo theaters, three cabarets and two bandstands are welcoming a joyous international gathering of singers, dancers and storytellers, and Expo streets and plazas are alive with parades, clowns, robots and mimes. The 1,500-seat Xerox International Amphitheater, for example, scheduled Japan's Ikuto Shrine Performing Group, Indonesia's Gamelan Orchestra, and Saudi Arabia's National Folk Dance Troop, among more than 100 attractions.
Some 250 performances are not included in the admission price, however. Instead, some of the world's great classic companies and top-of-the-pop artists have appeared, or will appear, at the Expo 86 World Festival in the 4,000-seat, covered Expo Theater and three large theaters in nearby downtown Vancouver: companies such as Italy's La Scala Opera, the U.S.S.R.'s Kirov Ballet, Great Britain's Royal Ballet, and the Philadelphia and Vancouver Symphonies, as well as individual stars as diverse as Charles Aznavour, Red Skelton, Johnny Cash, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte and Victor Borge.
And then there's film. There is hardly a pavilion at Expo without its slide show, movie screen or bank of TV sets, and a number of innovative theaters have been specifically designed to utilize some dazzling new film techniques. One is the Omnimax Theater, in the Expo Center, a glittering dome which opened a year before Expo and will remain after this year's big show. It features a 23-minute tour of the world called Freedom to Move; the ultimate cinematic sensation. It projects gigantic images nine times larger than those on ordinary movie screens, engulfing viewers with scenes and sounds. There's also the Imax Theater, at the Canada Pavilion on Burrard Inlet, which features Transitions, the first-ever Imax movie in 3D. There is too an entirely new film development, Scenography, at the Canada Pavilion. It uses nine computer-coordinated projectors and screens as well as a single spinning sphere to create lifelike illusions. It's the creation of Emil Radok, who produced Laterna Magika, the popular mix of film and live actors at Czechoslovakia's pavilion in Montreal.
Last, at the Telecom Canada Pavilion, there's the Circle Vision 360 Theater using Disney technology in a stand-up auditorium to show, in Portraits of Canada, a vast land and diverse people.
No fair, of course, would be complete without rides, and though there are only five at Expo 86, they're unforgettable. The Scream Machine, for example, offers 360-degree loops and reaches speeds of 88 kmp (55 mph), the Looping Starship offers the relative weightlessness familiar to astronauts, the Cariboo Log Chute is a kind of roller coaster on water and nearby, children from around the world will be lining up to gallop into the past, four abreast, on the backs of the antique hand-carved horses of the 1907 Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel. As a sign points out, the name is derived from the Italina "garosello" or Spanish "carosella" (little war), which how returning Crusaders described a game of horsemanship which they had witnessed during their travels in Turkey and Arabia.
But the piece de resistance is "Space Tower," an 80-meter (262-foot) lotus-shaped, bright yellow monument soaring above Ramses' Great Hall at the west end of the site. Space Tower is modeled after the original Parachute Drop, also 80 meters high, which terrified fair-goers by the thousands at the 1939 New York World's Fair (See Aramco World, July-August 1973) and still stands at Coney Island, where amusement park aficionados are trying to raise money to restore it. Vancouver's Space Tower, which in its own way is as much a symbol of Expo 86 as the geodesic dome of Expo Center at the other end of False Creek, offers two choices when you gamely step to the ticket windows: a relatively tame view of Vancouver's skyline, harbor and mountains or, if you have the heart for it, a brief but breathtaking freefall. Go ahead. We dare you.
Were any details being overlooked? Very few. First off, there's lots of parking space - 26,000 cars - and free parking for bicycles. You can leave your dog, or other pets, in one of two kennels, you can rent strollers for your children and if you lose any - children, that is - Lost Children stations are everywhere. There are also storage lockers, currency exchange booths, public telephones - 450 of them - and trash cans: 1,400 trash cans. If you get tired there are 10,000 seats scattered through 200 flower beds and along the water front, and if you have trouble with the language there are interpreters on hand to help out. Last, Expo 86 is wide open to the disabled: ramps everywhere, wheelchairs at every gate and guide dogs admitted.
Inside the grounds, transportation is free, including a sleek, Swiss-built 5.4 kilo-meter monorail (3.3 miles) which circuits the exposition in 20 minutes and the East and West skyrides, six-passenger gondola cars suspended overhead like ski lifts. They're sponsored appropriately enough, by Canadian Pacific Air Lines and Air Canada. Then there are the ferry boats cruising along False Creek's four-kilometer shoreline (2.5 miles) and Sky Train, a special rapid transit shuttle to the Canada Pavilion. Also available are Japan's magnetically floating HSST train and France's compact Soule SK people-moving cabins, but they don't take you anywhere. Demonstration models, they move only toward the future.
An exposition that includes communications in its theme could not, certainly, overlook information and Expo 86 hasn't; at banks of IBM touch-screen computer terminals in 10 outdoor kiosks, visitors can get electronic answers to their questions about Expo in English or French and, on request, maps, entertainment updates and even video clips.
Then there's food: 50 Expo-operated restaurants, some featuring "Quick Cuisine" and seating 10,000 customers, some hot dog stands disguised as space ships and five McDonald's including the floating "McBarge." In addition, 10 international pavilions serve ethnic specialities.
Expo organizers have also made elaborate provisions to help you find a room. Res West, called the world's largest reservation system, can instantly sort through more than 13,000 "approved quality hotel rooms" in Greater Vancouver and check 2,000 more rooms in bed-and-breakfast establishments, youth hostels and university dormitories. If you're really desperate, or if you prefer it that way, Res West can also check out 8,000 camp sites located amid the majestic forests, mountains, rivers and valleys of the northwest no more than a three hour drive away.
Even before it opened, Expo 86 organizers had pre-sold 13 million tickets - many of them three-day or season passes and with many Americans and Canadians avoiding Europe this summer, the fair may sell another four to seven million tickets before October. To handle this crush, Expo organizers have hired some 15,000 employees, mostly young, vigorous and enthusiastic, and have recruited another 15,000 volunteers, many of them enthusiastic senior citizens who, at the end of an unpaid four-hour shift, typically stick around to enjoy the attractions along with the ticket holders.
As usual, most of the countries, provinces and corporations represented at Expo 86 will be celebrating National or Special Days during the summer. Canada's was on July 1 for example, the U.S.A. on July 4 and Mexico and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will do so in September.
A number of special events were scheduled too: Steamexpo, the largest assembly of steam locomotives in 40 years; Ships of the World, a gathering of hundreds of steam and sailing craft in Vancouver's harbor; a Vintage International Antique Auto Show; the DC3 Airmada, in which more than 50 classic airliners celebrate the 50th anniversary of the DC-3 with a fly-past over the city, and, on August 8-10, the 25th annual Abbotsford International Air Show the biggest in North America this year. (When an Air France Concorde makes its appearance, anyone with $845 to spare will be able to book a 100-minute "Flight to Nowhere" over the Pacific at twice the speed of sound).
This theme - transportation and communications - is also explored in an entirely new program for world expositions: in-depth looks - conferences, trade exhibitions on- and off-site displays and demonstrations - in such fields as Polar Transport, Search and Rescue, Alternate Fuels, Underwater Resources and Modern Rail.
Symposium III, for example (the first two in this three-part series were held in January 1984 and March 1985), gathered experts in transportation and communications from around the world, and launched some 80 specialized conferences and seminars which Commissioner General Reid calls "more exciting than the pavilions themselves." One early example was the International Pipeline Symposium, sponsored by the Government of Alberta (See box).
Appropriately, the keynote speaker at Symposium III was Dr. Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian author, who has challenged the oceans of the world in small craft as old as man himself. "To have any intuition as to where we are going, we must know where we came from," Heyerdahl said - summing up what Expo 86 is about: the exploration of the past and the future in a voyage of discovery.
William Tracy is a former Assistant Editor of Aramco World magazine now writing a novel in California