Vancouver cuts the ribbon on Expo 86
Vancouver, British Columbia
NORTH America's last scheduled World Exposition during this century looks to be one of the great civic celebrations of our age. When Britain's Prince and Princess of Wales snip the opening ribbon today on Expo 86 -- a 55-nation, six-month exposition built loosely on the themes of transportation and communication -- 1.2 million Vancouverites will also be marking their city's 100th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the inaugural run of Canada's transcontinental railroad.Skip to next paragraph
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No fewer than 14,000 live performances are scheduled to accompany the fair, and dozens of British Columbia's regional and local festivals are being tied, or timed, to it. The fair's cultural and entertainment budget alone is $60 million.
Beyond that, a $75 million marketing campaign is attempting to bring the world to Vancouver's doorstep, promising a barrage of colors, sights, sounds, and smells both ``exciting and educational.''
The campaign is unabashedly proclaiming the majesty -- and safety -- of Canada's Pacific Coast, with its pristine air, snowcapped mountains, and birds and animals in the wild.
And by most accounts, the fair is on the most stable footing of any since Montreal's Expo 67. Thirteen million of an estimated 17 million tickets have already been sold. The fair is heavily backed by the provincial and federal governments ($1.1 billion) and 35 corporations (among them McDonald's Corporation, which has six restaurants on the site). Twice as many countries are taking part as did in the Knoxville, Tenn., fair of 1982 or the New Orleans fair of 1984, and the site is twice as big as either one.
On the downside, a $300 million deficit is projected from fair-related investment, but that amount is expected to be made up by a provincial lottery, according to Expo 86 spokeswoman Gail Flitten.
Relatively cheap gas and the upsurge of headlines about terrorism abroad are expected to help boost attendance, as is a favorable exchange rate for Americans ($1 US equals about $1.35 Canadian).
But the fair has not been without controversy. Almost since 1979, when the planning began, the event has been dogged by disputes over labor and the eviction of elderly renters from the 180-acre site along an inlet named False Creek. Twenty top labor administrators resigned or were fired in this heavily pro-union province when it was decided that nonunion labor would be brought in to help build the Expo. Six-hundred elderly people were displaced from local hotels, where they'd lived for years, and the evictions raised outcries that only a week ago nearly resulted in one top official's call for concerned citizens to boycott the fair.
But according to Scott McRae, city editor of the Vancouver Sun, the controversies have died down or changed in focus. ``People here have separated those issues from what's going on at the fair itself, and they are now more interested in just getting on with it,'' he says. ``Local businessmen have been rubbing their hands together for two years.'' Indeed, many local hotels have doubled or tripled rates beginning today. Restaurants have raised food prices. ``It pains me to see my fellows fleecing the tourists,'' one resident says.
If there is a consensus about the biggest selling point for Expo 86, it has to be the setting. The Coastal Range mountains here, visible from all parts of the fair site, are nothing short of spectacular. The fairgrounds are set on a peninsula bounded on one side by False Creek, a small inlet, and Burrard Inlet, a larger bay. Stanley Park, a sanctuary of evergreens, guards the end of this jutting fist, which is connected to the mainland by a suspension bridge. The whole basin is caressed by low-lying clouds.