Expo 67 hostesses reminisce about the thrills and starpower, 50 years on

Many of the women who worked as hostesses at the Quebec pavilion, an imposing, modern building on Île Notre-Dame that is now part of the Casino de Montréal, attended a reunion this Tuesday.

22 Quebec pavilion hostesses met in Montreal Tuesday for reunion

A photo from Quebec pavilion hostess Paule-Andrée Morency's personal collection, of her and her colleagues on the last day of Expo 67. She and at least 21 of her colleagues are having a reunion Tuesday. (Submitted by Paule-Andrée Morency)

Expo 67 was, of course, a big to-do, a grandiose event with no shortage of things to see, parties to attend and food to eat.

On Tuesday, some of the women who were at the centre of it all came together in Montreal once again, but for a much more subdued affair.

Many of the women who worked as hostesses at the Quebec pavilion, an imposing, modern building on Île Notre-Dame that is now part of the Casino de Montréal, attended their 50-year reunion on Tuesday.

They are now between 69 and 86 years old, and came from across Canada and the U.S.

"When you plan a reunion like that, you don't need a lot of things, like musicians or parties. You just have to be there," said Paule-Andrée Morency, a former hostess who organized the event.

It took place at the Centre d'histoire de Montréal, which just opened a new exhibit about those glory days of 1967.

A city in flux

The young, good-looking, worldly and savvy women who worked as hostesses at the Quebec pavilion donned brown and powder blue dresses as they shepherded guests around, either wowing them with their knowledge or trying not to let on how awestruck they were.

Paule-Andrée Morency spoke English, French and Spanish, and had spent a year in Italy, so she figured she would make a good Expo hostess. (Submitted by Paule-Andrée Morency)
Originally from Quebec City, Morency arrived in Montreal in March 1967 for six weeks of training. She and her colleagues learned how to comb their hair, apply their makeup and even the right way to walk.

"It was strict, but fun," she said.

Everywhere she turned, from the streets to the trains of the brand-new Metro, there was excitement. Strangers would strike up conversations with each other, fuelled by the energy of a city in flux, a city embracing modernization.

They would work 10 days in a row, then get three or four days off. The salary was about $100 a week, which was impressive.

"This was a lot in 1967, especially for a young lady of 21," Morency said with a laugh.
Colette Quesnel wears the hat she had to wear as hostess while showing a photo of her in her twenties. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

And she even fell in love, with a tall, bearded political science student who was working at the Quebec tourism booth, not far from the pavilion.

He was a leftist and she was from a conservative family, but in the spirit of the times, she tried to keep an open mind, she said.

They stayed together for five years before breaking up, but remained friends until he died a few years ago.

A guide for a princess

Francine Desrochers-Brooks, a Montreal native now living in Upstate New York, applied for the job because she thought it sounded glamorous.

At one point, a strike by local transit employees meant that in order to get to work, she hitchhiked every day.
Francine Desrochers-Brooks was 20 when Expo 67 opened. (Submitted by Francine Desrochers-Brooks)

"I would walk to Sherbrooke Street and put my thumb out in my uniform and I'd get a ride immediately. … I had no problems getting there. It was kind of fun," she said.

But her most memorable experience: a half day spent with Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco, showing her the grounds.

"I was in awe. She was so beautiful and very gracious and very unassuming."

She was also chosen to escort John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau, then the leader of the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and justice minister, respectively.
A visit from Grace Kelly was one of the highlights of Expo for Desrochers-Brooks. (Library and Archives of Canada)

Dienfenbaker made an effort to talk to them in French. Trudeau was charming, funny and kept them on their toes, she recalled.

Both women spoke of the confidence they garnered while working at Expo.

"I thought if I can do this, I can do just about anything," Desrochers-Brooks said.

A final reunion

As the fair wrapped up and the years wore on, the once-strong friendships forged during those six months weakened, somewhat.

But while calling her former colleagues and organizing the reunion, Morency, a retired teacher, found that their names and faces came back to her instantly.
The hostesses reminisce over photos at their 50th reunion, all smiles looking at their younger selves. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

They're older, she said, but not much has changed.

Some of the women got together for a 25-year reunion, and made the trip this time because they knew it may be the last time they'd see each other.

Though they only worked together for six months, that was enough time for them to get to know each other, perhaps better than they realized.

With files from Sarah Leavitt