Secret Life of Canada

Why the 'Indians of Canada Pavilion' at Expo 67 still matters

If you weren't around for Expo 67, you may not get why Montreal's world fair was a big deal for 100-year-old Canada. Consider this: in the golden age of PR, Expo attracted 50 million visitors to a country of 20 million people. But there was one pavilion that wanted to tell a more nuanced story.

In the midst of Centennial celebrations, one exhibit resisted Canada's familiar, comfortable story

Expo 67 was Canada's biggest flex during its centennial year — but the story behind the spectacle reveals much more about young Canada. (Ron Case/Getty Images)

If you weren't around for Expo 67, you may not get why Montreal's world fair was a big deal for 100-year-old Canada. Well, consider this: Expo attracted 50 million visitors to a country of 20 million people in the golden age of PR. This was a young country's chance to put its best face forward.

But there was one pavilion that wanted to tell a more nuanced story.

The Indians of Canada Pavilion — a name that didn't age well — was just one of over 100 pavilions at Expo 67, but its impacts on Canada-Indigenous relations, the art world and the people who attended and participated still linger to this day.

Part one. 

In part one of a two-part series, Falen takes Leah on a minirail tour around the Expo 67 grounds. We learn a bit about the lead up to the world's fair and the fraught planning process.

You may have heard of Expo 67 — Canada's biggest flex during its centennial year — but do you know the fascinating history of the Indian Pavilion? It was separate and distinct from the Canada Pavilion, and it was primed to make that distinction matter. In the first part of a two part episode, Falen takes Leah on a minirail tour around the Expo grounds. (Content warning: clowns.)

Listen for: 

  • A general layout of the fair and some of the many countries and global figures in attendance, from Jackie Kennedy to James Baldwin to the Queen. 
  • Some lighter fare, from the story of how an ashtray inspired the Canada Pavilion to the foul-mouthed parrot that had to be escorted from the grounds. 
  • How groups like the National Indian Council, The Indian Expo Task Force and others started planning the Indians of Canada Pavilion, which stood apart from the Canada Pavilion 
  • Why legendary Anishinaabe artist Norval Morriseau walked away from his Expo commission.
  • Interviews with Russell Moses, who speaks about his father and his work at the Indians of Canada Pavilion, and Expo 67 hostess Barbara Wilson, who shares memories of her training for the pavilion.

Part two. 

When Expo opened its doors on April 28, 1967, it was a gleaming futuristic spectacle; a chance for Canada to prove itself on the world stage. But one irreverent pavilion was set to tell its own side of the story — complete with truths the visiting public (including the Queen) were not expecting. Today Falen leads Leah on a tour of the “Indians of Canada” pavilion. She also speaks with two hostesses who were there to help make history.

"You have stolen our native land, our culture, our soul…" Falen leads Leah on a tour of the "Indians of Canada" pavilion, an Indigenous-led exhibit that didn't mince words.

Listen for: 

  • An immersive walk-through of the pavilion, from the welcome figure by Coastal Salish carver Simon Charlie to an artificial fire by the exit, "flames for visions of the future."
  • Falen's method acting approach to becoming an official hostess. (Suspend your disbelief, folks. She's really wearing a hat.) 
  • Highlights from several key exhibits, including hard-hitting statements about the broken treaties, stolen land, the residential school system and the erasure of Indigenous spirituality. 
  • Why the exhibit challenged visitors who expecting a familiar, comfortable story — including the Queen, who "carefully ignored" certain sections, according to the Globe and Mail. 
  • How the context of the 60s — a time of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and Hollywood westerns — made this pavilion that much more of an anomaly.
  • What the exhibit meant for the young women chosen to represent their nations as hostesses, including interviews with Stella Chabot and Barb Williams, who said "I'm very, very grateful that that they stood their ground.  And told it like it was. It could have been Walt Disney otherwise, you know."

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