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The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, or simply Expo '86, was a World's Fair held in Vancouvermarker, British Columbiamarker, Canadamarker from May 2 until October 13, 1986. The fair, the theme of which was "Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch", coincided with Vancouver's centennial and was held on the north shore of False Creek. It was the second time that Canada held a World's Fair, the first being Expo 67 in Montrealmarker (during the Canadian Centennial).



Up until the late 1970s, the 173 acre (0.7 km²) site on False Creekmarker, where Expo was staged, was a former CPR rail yard and an industrial wasteland. In 1978, Sam Bawlf (then BC Minister of Recreation and Conservation) proposed an exposition to celebrate Vancouver's Centennial year (1986). The proposal was submitted in June, 1979, for a fair that was to be called "Transpo 86." In 1980, the British Columbia Legislature passed the Transpo 86 Corporation Act, paving the way for the fair. The transportation theme reflected the city's role in connecting Canada by rail, its status as a major port and transportation hub, and the role of transportation in communications.

The fair was awarded to Vancouver by the Bureau of International Expositions in November, 1980. However, once it became clear that the event would be a world exposition, the name was officially changed to "Expo 86" by Ambassador and Commissioner General Patrick Reid in October, 1981, and, by the end of the year, Expo 86 Corporation was established as a nonprofit agency responsible in the planning and operation of the fair. Local business tycoon, Jim Pattison was appointed as CEO, and would eventually also become the president of the corporation. The chief architect selected was Bruno Freschi, the Creative Director was Ron Woodall, and Bob Smith was responsible for the production and design.

Construction started in October 1983, when Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, started a cement mixer on the future site of the Canada Pavilion, and offered the "invitation to the world." But, work was disrupted by labour disputes for 5 months. Still, Expo Centre opened May 2, 1985, as a preview centre for the fair.

The final cost of the fair ended up being CDN $8 million under budget.

The Fair

Expo '86 was opened by Charles, Prince of Wales, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on May 2, 1986. It featured pavilions from 54 nations and numerous corporations. Expo's participants were given the opportunity to design their own pavilion or opt for the less expensive Expo module. Each module was approximately two-and-a-half stories high and had the floor space equal to a third of a city block. The design was such that any number of the square modules could be placed together in a variety of shapes. The roof design allowed the interior exhibit space to be uninterrupted by pillars.

This World's Fair was categorised as a "Class II," or "specialised exhibition," reflecting its specific emphases on transportation and communications.


Canadian provincial and territorial pavilions:

Country pavilions:

US states' pavilions:

Corporate/NGO pavilions:

Other pavilions and exhibits:
  • Great Hall of Ramses II (Egypt) - containing rare treasures from the life of the pharaoh
  • Great Norwegian Explorers (Norway)
  • Pavilion of Promise
  • Roundhouse - a renovated 100-year-old railway roundhouse contained various historical locomotives.
  • Expo Centre (later Science World, now Telus World of Science)

Outdoor exhibits:
  • Air Plaza
  • Land Plaza
  • Marine Plaza
  • Folklife
  • Highway 86 - a sculpture/exhibit consisting of a 217m 4 lane concrete highway that contained various modes of transportation (cars, mopeds, bikes, etc) that were frozen in time. All the real vehicles were painted a shade of light grey, and mounted in place. It was designed by 'S.I.T.E. Projects' of New York.
  • UFO H2O - a UFO inspired children's water playground.

  • Labatt's Expo Theatre
  • Kodak Pacific Bowl
  • Xerox International Theatre

Entertainment and famous visitors

Royalty: Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Crown Prince Harald & Crown Princess Sonja of Norway

Prime Minister: Brian Mulroney (Canada) Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom) Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister - Canada)

Vice-President: George Bush (United States)

Concerts: Einstürzende Neubauten, Harry Belafonte, Anne Murray, Billy Ocean, Bruce Cockburn, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Eurythmics, Julio Iglesias, Amy Grant, Loverboy, a-ha, Liberace, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Gowan, Parachute Club, Joan Baez with Don McLean, Kenny Loggins, Lou Rawls & The 5th Dimension, Honeymoon Suite, Kim Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Depeche Mode, Joe Jackson, George Thorogood, Smokey Robinson, George Benson, John Denver, The Manhattan Transfer, The Beach Boys, Air Supply, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Temptations, René Simard, K.D. Lang (opening for Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins), Peter Allen, Sheena Easton, Trooper, Bryan Adams, World Drums concert (led by John Wyre), The Romaniacs, Shannon Gunn, Skywalk, Kent-Meridian Jazz Ensemble, Tangerine Dream, Youssou N'Dour, Rolf Harris, Images In Vogue,

The "Festival of Independent Recording Artists", a concert series promoting local bands, was cancelled on the first night after a performance by Slow devolved into a riot.

Comedians: Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Joan Rivers, Howie Mandel, George Burns and Danny Kaye

Dance: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company

Directors: Norman Jewison, George Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II)

Oceanographer: Jacques Cousteau of France

Facts and figures

  • Official Theme: "Transportation and Communication"
  • Sub Theme: "A Celebration of Ingenuity"
  • Total Attendance Number: 22,111,578
  • Operating Dates: May 2, 1986 to October 13, 1986
  • Chief Architect: Bruno Freschi
  • Official Mascot: Expo Ernie - A lifesized robot.

  • Revenues: $491m
  • Expenditures : $802m
  • Deficit : $311m
(Note: All amounts are in Canadian funds and are not adjusted for inflation.)

  • Main Expo Site Size: 670,000 m³, (165 acres).
  • Canadian Pavilion Size: 24,000 m³ (6 acres), 4.5 km away from the main site connected by Vancouver's SkyTrain.
  • Total Expo Site Size: 700,000 m² (173 acres)

54 Official Participating Nations:Antigua et Barbuda, Australia,Barbados, Belgium, Brunei,Canada, China, Cook island, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia,Dominica,Fiji, France,Germany, Grenada,Hungary,Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast,Japan,Kenya, Republic of Korea,Malaysia, Mexico, Monserrat,Nauru, Norway,Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines,Romania,St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland,Thailand, Tonga,United Kingdom, U.S.A., USSR,Vanuatu,Western Samoa,and Yugoslavia.


In all, 22 million people attended the expo and, despite a deficit of $311 million CAD, it was considered a tremendous success. It remains to date the biggest event in British Columbiamarker history and is viewed by many as the transition of Vancouvermarker from a sleepy provincial backwater to a city with global clout . It marked a strong boost to tourism for the province.

Many have also seen the fair as being at least partially responsible for the re-election of the Social Credit party for its final term as a provincial government.

Today, the western half of the site has and is continuing to be developed into parks and high rise condominiums. The eastern portion was used for the annual Molson Indy race, until it was cancelled in late 2004. Future plans call for the eastern third of the site to be developed into parkland and condominiums. The western third of the site is presently owned by the real estate investment firm Concord Pacific, which has its primary shareholder the Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. The redevelopment took longer than expected, but is one of the most successful urban developments in Canadian history. The south eastern section of the site just underneath the former Expo Center is being developed for use as part the Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics. After the Olympics, it will also be developed into condos and park land.

State of Expo 86 attractions

Some of the lasting contributions of Expo 86 to the city of Vancouver include:
  • Science Worldmarker - An interactive educational centre with an OMNIMAX cinema. It opened May 2, 1985 as the Expo Centre; in 2005 the name was changed to Science World at Telus World of Science.
  • SkyTrain - An elevated rapid transit system. The original line built for the Expo, the Expo Line, has since been extended twice. An entirely new line, the Millennium Line, was built in 2001. The Canada Line opened in 2009, and though it also is automated, it operates using different technology than the Expo and Millennium Lines.
  • Canada Placemarker The Canada Government pavilion is now a major downtown convention centre and cruise ship docks. It has seen major use over the years and was expanded to allow for bigger cruise ships to dock in 1999. In 2009, a companion building immediately to the northwest was completed.
  • Plaza of Nationsmarker - One of the last remaining structures from the fair. Used as an outdoor concert venue and public plaza. After twenty years, the Glass canopy that was connected to the adjacent office buildings was found unsafe and torn down. The two office buildings are now also undergoing complete demolition, leaving Canada Place and the Telus World of Science as the only remaining structures directly left from the Expo site.
  • BC Placemarker - All-purpose domed sports stadium (primarily for the BC Lions), home of the opening of Expo '86. - Future home of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

After the fair closed many of the attractions were auctioned off to buyers outside of Vancouver. The dispersed Expo '86 attractions include:

  • Monorail - now located at Alton Towersmarker Theme Park in England
  • Floating McDonald's (locally known as "McBarge") - is now essentially abandoned in the waters of Burrard Inlet, Burnaby. It can be seen when riding the West Coast Express.
  • China Gate - donated by the Chinese Government to the City of Vancouver and is now located on Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatownmarker
  • World's largest ice hockey stick - now in Duncan, British Columbiamarker at the local hockey rink
  • World's largest Flag Pole - now in Surrey, British Columbiamarker at Flag Motors,
  • Scream Machine roller coaster - now Ninja at Six Flags St. Louismarker
  • Inukshuk - once used at the Northwest Territoriesmarker Pavilion, it is now used as a landmark on English Bay beach. It was an inspiration for the official logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • Site Furniture - all sorts of brightly painted remnants were relocated to the PNE on East Hastings Street, as well as other parks and public areas in Greater Vancouvermarker.
  • Folklife Pavilion - most of the Folklife Pavilion buildings were dismantled into pieces, shipped by barge and reconstructed as the Folklife Village, the main shopping center on Gabriola Islandmarker, BC
  • UFO H2O - the water park is now at Mount Layton Hot Springs Resort in Terrace, British Columbiamarker.
  • Dragonboats - the 6 teak wooden boats used to celebrate Hongkong (pavilion) day by holding a dragonboat racing festival can still be seen today on False Creek and are still raced annually.


A group of former Expo '86 employees conducted a 20th anniversary reunion for Expo participants on May 2, 2006 at the Plaza of Nations site.

A group of former BC Pavilion employees celebrated the 20th anniversary of the close of Expo 86 at a reunion [821763] on October 13, 2006 at the former Expo Centre (now renamed the Telus World of Science).


In 1988, the site was sold to the Concord Pacific development corporation for a fraction of the original cost, a move that proved to be extremely controversial. Premier William Vander Zalm and Peter Toigo were accused of influence peddling in the sale.


On May 9, 1986, 9-year-old Karen Ford of Nanaimo, BC was crushed to death at the Canadian Pavilion theatre. The child was crushed while on the theater's revolving turntable that moves between two semi-circular theaters in the pavilion. The revolving table was shut down for some time after the accident, but was put back in service with a number of new safety measures.

See also

External links


  • CBC Archives - The food of Expo 86.
  • CBC Archives Jim Pattison - a key person behind Expo 86 (from 1985) - and concerns about hosting Expo.


  1. Archives of British Columbia: Trains, Planes and Automobiles
  2. Victim's father wants $100,000 from Expo, Associated Press, Spokane Chronicle - Jun 19, 1986, pg A2

%26srch_name%3D1 History of the Vancouver '86 Expo

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