How do you maintain a 50-year friendship? 6 pro tips from Expo 67 staffers

The former hosts and hostesses of the Ontario Pavillion have been friends for five decades and counting. They share their secrets with Canada 150 staff and volunteers.

'Support the supreme organizer' — and other keys to a lasting bond

The former staff of Expo 67's Ontario Pavillion have been friends for five decades — and counting. They share some secrets with Canada 150 staff and volunteers. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

When Alena Schram looks at the friends she's known for 50 years, she still sees them as they were in the summer of 1967. 

Schram was among an elite group of young men and women hired to run the Ontario Pavillion at Expo 67 — the marquee event of Canada's centennial year.

She and her fellow hosts and hostesses recently reunited in Toronto, celebrating their 50th anniversary on another big year for the country. The tight-knit group of friends are now in their 70s.

"I still see their '67 faces, and I sort of put up with their current ones," says Schram with a laugh. 

The 'Dos and Don'ts' of keeping in touch

If Schram is any indication, good humour is one key to lasting affection.

But how else does one maintain a multi-person, multi-decade friendship? Despite long distances, busy schedules and diverging career paths, her group has found a way to hold four major reunions and several smaller get-togethers over the years. 

As a new generation of Canada 150 staff and volunteers bond across the country, we've fashioned some friendly advice from Schram, and some of her peers, into a short list of dos and don'ts.

1. Do appreciate your moment in history.

Several Expo 67 buildings, like the geodesic dome that housed the United States Pavilion, remain key features of the modern Montreal landscape. (Library and Archives Canada)

Dubbed Montreal's world fair, Expo 67 attracted more than 50 million visitors, including the Queen and several global celebrities, from over 60 countries. Spectacular visions of the future were featured in dozens of national and international pavilions — including the Ontario Pavilion, where Schram and her peers worked. 

"We understood that we were in a special place at a special time," says the retired teacher, ambassadorial spouse and author. 

"It was different than other Canadian anniversaries in that the world came to our shores that year," adds Gary J. Smith, who went on to become Canada's ambassador to Indonesia.

"The international nature of it fused us together."

2. Do figure out what makes you special as a group — and as individuals.  

'Fifty of us were chosen from 2,000 applications. We were interviewed twice. We all spoke a second language, and some a third. This alone put us in a rarefied group for the 1960s.' Alena Schram. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

The Ontario Pavillion hosts and hostesses were hand-picked from thousands of applicants.

The result? A group of high achievers who shared many beliefs and values. The great foundation, says Schram, was that they all felt they were part of something truly great for Canada. 

"Many of our professions reflected that concept: judges, diplomats, senior civil servants," she says, adding that the group also produced artists, CEOs, lawyers and a film producer. 

"I think one of our strengths is that we were equal numbers of men and women," adds Eva Innes, who went on to become president of her own consulting firm.

Notably, the men and the women in the group were paid equally. "This was a cutting edge approach in 1967!" says Schram.

And at the individual level, everyone played a role — from cheerleader to naysayer to "ideas person" to "sounding board."

Over the years, many have confessed that they once thought they were the "surprise," the "outlier" or the "odd man out." As it turns out, each person in the group brought something unique to the bond and dynamic. 

3. Don't leave it all to one lead organizer.

Lucky groups have at least one person with enviable organizational skills. For the Ontario Pavillion, that person is Laird Saunderson, former right hand to Ontario premier Bill Davis. 

Laird Saunderson, second from the left, has been dubbed the supreme organizer of the group. Here she, Eva Innes and Bridgit Neidre pose with late MPP John Yaremko. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

Saunderson calls the group "a source of support and comfort over the years." She, in turn, has been making calls, sending emails and otherwise corralling her friends for decades. 

But every friend group should bear in mind that no one person, not even the extremely competent, is all mighty. 

"Support the supreme organizer," says Schram, noting that Saunderson has needed the backing of co-chairs, Eva Innes and Jocelyne Côté-O'Hara, and a little team to get their group together over the years. 

4. Don't over-reunite.

Schram has heard that some groups try to meet annually to mixed results. She advises small gatherings as often as convenient and bigger events with the whole group every five to 10 years.

"These events are better held infrequently," she notes, adding that the rarity motivates those who have to travel long distances. 

"It's surprising how meaningful such reunions can be."

John MacNaughton, Dorinda Brunst and Terry Tyers, seen here at the group's 45th anniversary, showed up in their Expo 67 uniforms. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

5. Do take on new projects.

Although the group enjoys getting nostalgic, they've also taken on new projects hinged on their shared values.

For instance, since their youth, they've believed in the importance of learning French. Schram says this was "unusual amongst Ontarians" in 1967. 

In 2002, some members set up the Ontario 67 Scholarship at Glendon College, York University's bilingual campus. Since then, they've helped several Québécois students pay for their studies in Ontario.  

"We have such wonderful memories of those days we experienced firsthand and of the fair's phenomenal success," Smith, a Glendon alumnus, said at the time. "This is our way of saying 'thank you.'"

6. Don't take your friendships for granted.

The gang recently reunited in Toronto. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

Keep in touch. It's a hopeful statement after a shared experience — one more often expressed than honoured. With Canada 150 volunteers and staff in mind, Schram warns: "Make sure you don't take your friendships for granted."

Her group's reunions have been getting smaller over the years. On the final pages of their 50th anniversary memory book, twelve names are neatly printed in memoriam.

"I don't know who the last man standing will be. Probably a woman — still organizing!" says Schram with a wistful laugh.

It's a fact of life and friendship, one that should remind us that all shared time is precious.

Looking back, Schram is proud of her peers and five decades of keeping in touch.  

"I think we all turned out better than we thought we would," she says. 

Here's hoping bonds formed in 2017 are as durable as this special centennial friendship. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

About the Author

Fabiola Melendez Carletti

Fabiola Melendez Carletti is a journalist and digital storyteller. She is currently lending her talents to Canada 2017, the CBC's year-long sesquicentennial project.

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