Expo 86

This article is about the 1986 World's Fair. For the album by Wolf Parade, see Expo 86 (album). For the song by Death Cab For Cutie, see Transatlanticism.
EXPO Vancouver 1986

The Expo 86 logo
BIE-class Specialized exposition
Category International specialized exposition
Name 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication
Motto "World in Motion - World in Touch"
Building BC Place Stadium, Canada Place, Expo Centre (now Telus World of Science), SkyTrain
Area 70 hectares (170 acres)
Visitors 22,111,578
Countries 54
Country Canada
City Vancouver
Venue BC Place Stadium, Canada Place, Plaza of Nations, Expo Centre
Coordinates 49°17′19.1″N 123°6′40″W / 49.288639°N 123.11111°W / 49.288639; -123.11111
Bidding 1979
Awarded November 1980
Opening May 2, 1986 (1986-05-02)
Closure October 13, 1986 (1986-10-13)
Specialized expositions
Previous Expo '85 in Tsukuba
Next World Expo 88 in Brisbane
Universal expositions
Previous Expo '70 in Osaka
Next Seville Expo '92 in Seville
Horticultural expositions
Previous International Garden Festival in Liverpool
Next Expo '90 in Osaka

The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, or simply Expo 86, was a World's Fair held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from Friday, May 2 until Monday, 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 Montreal (during the Canadian Centennial). It was also the third World's Fair to be held in the Pacific Northwest in the previous 24 years as of 1986 and as of 2016 it still stands as the last World's Fair to be held in North America.


The monorail at Expo 86. After the site closed, it was shipped to England where it was installed at the Alton Towers theme park in 1987.

The logo of three interlocking rings to make the 86 in the logo stood for the three main modes of transportation; land, air, and water.


Up until the late 1970s, the 173 acre (0.7 km2) site on False Creek, 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 initial idea was to have “...a modest $80 million transportation exposition that would mark Vancouver's 100th anniversary.”[1] It soon blossomed into a full exposition thanks to the help of the Vancouver Exposition Commissioner-General at that time, Patrick Reid. The theme of Transportation and Communication led to the conglomeration of many different exhibits of transportation networks. This included a monorail that glided over the crowds that included a trip to every zone. Other ground transports included the "SkyTrain", a High Speed Surface Transport from Japan, and a French “People Mover.” The transport of the sky was the Gondola, a boxcar hovering high in the air. The water taxis moved along four different ports on the site.[2]

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 concrete mixer on the future site of the Canada Pavilion, and offered the "invitation to the world."[3] However, work was disrupted by labour disputes for five months. Still, Expo Centre opened May 2, 1985, as a preview centre for the fair.

The fair was originally budgeted for a modest CAN$78 million. However, final expenditures for the expanded event totaled $802 million, with a deficit of CAN$311 million.[4]


As the city prepared to welcome an influx of visitors, more than a thousand low-income residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were evicted from their long-term homes in single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, sometimes with a little as a single day's notice.[5] Because tenants were subject to British Columbia's Innkeeper's Act rather than the laws governing typical landlords and renters, the SRO owners were not required to give significant notice, or even written notice, of an eviction. Mike Harcourt, the city's mayor at the time, hoped provincial laws might be changed to protect these residents, but the provincial government refused.[5] The Patricia Hotel was among those establishments that evicted most or all of its residents, including a Norwegian man named Olaf Solheim. Solheim, who had lived at the Patricia Hotel for decades, was well known in the community but was evicted with just a week's notice. Although he was found a new home, he became despondent, stopped eating, and died within a month. Vancouver's chief medical health officer at the time, John Batherwick, publicly asserted that the sudden eviction could be the cause of Solheim's death: "He'd been moved from where he was to a place he didn't want to be, and he simply lost his will to live and he died."[5]

The Fair

Expo 86 was opened by Charles, Prince of Wales, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on Friday, 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 categorized as a "Class II," or "specialized exhibition," reflecting its specific emphases on transportation and communications.


Canadian provinces and territories

Not pictured: Nova Scotia Ontario Prince Edward Island Saskatchewan

Countries and international organizations

Not pictured: Barbados Côte d'Ivoire Hungary Kenya South Korea Malaysia Spain Yugoslavia

US states

Oregon's pavilion

Corporations and non-governmental organizations

Other pavilions and exhibits

Outdoor exhibits


Entertainment and famous visitors

Royalty: Prince Charles & Diana, Princess of Wales for the opening ceremonies; Crown Prince Harald & Crown Princess Sonja of Norway; Saudi-Arabian Prince Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud[15]

Prime Minister: Brian Mulroney (Canada) Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom) Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister - Canada)[15]

Vice-President: George Bush (United States)[15]

Concerts: Einstürzende Neubauten, Harry Belafonte, Anne Murray, Billy Ocean, Bruce Cockburn, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Annie Lennox - 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, Idle Eyes, Honeymoon Suite, Kim Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Depeche Mode, Joe Jackson, George Thorogood + the Delaware Destroyers, Smokey Robinson, George Benson, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Air Supply, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Manhattan Transfer, The Temptations, René Simard, k.d. lang (opening for Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins), Peter Allen, Sheena Easton, Trooper, Bryan Adams, The Romaniacs, Tangerine Dream, Youssou N'Dour, Rolf Harris, Kool & The Gang, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino with Jerry Lee Lewis, Donovan[15] Leilehua High School, Layton High School Lancer Marching Band, Alta Loma High School (Chamber Singers), Rancho Cucamonga, CA College Park High School Marching Band from Pleasant Hill, CA, Gustine High School Marching, Concert and Jazz Band from Gustine, CA, Siuslaw High School Band and Jazz Band, from Florence, Oregon at Oregon Pavilion, World Drums concert (led by John Wyre), Shannon Gunn, Skywalk, Kent-Meridian Jazz Ensemble, Images In Vogue, Peter Noone, Alvin Lee opened for Steppenwolf. Many of the concerts were hosted by Red Robinson, Vancouver DJ. These concerts were held at the Open air Expo Theatre.

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.[16] Other artists who had been scheduled to appear in that series included Art Bergmann.[16]

Comedians: Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Joan Rivers, Howie Mandel, George Burns and Danny Kaye[15]

Dance: Mikhail Baryshnikov, The Royal Ballet,[15] Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company

Directors: Norman Jewison, George Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II)[15]

Oceanographer: Jacques Cousteau[15]

Facts and figures

Expo 86 Stamp Issued by the Soviet Union

(Note: All amounts are in Canadian funds and are not adjusted for inflation.)

54 Official Participating Nations:

 Antigua and Barbuda,  Australia,  Barbados,  Belgium,  Brunei,  Canada,  China,  Cook Islands,  Côte d'Ivoire,  Costa Rica,  Cuba,  Czechoslovakia,  Dominica,  Fiji,  France,  Germany,  Grenada,  Hungary,  Indonesia,  Italy,  Japan,  Kenya,  Malaysia,  Mexico,  Montserrat,  Nauru,  Norway,  Pakistan,  Papua New Guinea,  Peru,  Philippines,  Romania,  Saint Kitts and Nevis,  Saint Lucia,  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,  Saudi Arabia,  Senegal,  Singapore,  Solomon Islands,  South Korea,  Spain,  Sri Lanka,   Switzerland,  Thailand,  Tonga,  United Kingdom,  United States,  U.S.S.R.  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 second biggest event in British Columbia history and is viewed by many as the transition of Vancouver 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, "set the standard for development in 1990s."[18] "These new neighborhoods delivered substantial contributions to public infrastructure and overall livability … Integrating community amenity contributions (CACs) into the development process, thus enabling the construction of important public infrastructure as the city grows, [which] has become a signature part of 'Vancouverism', an urban development process and style for which the city has become world famous."[19] The south eastern section of the site just underneath the former Expo Center was redeveloped for use as part the Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics. After the Olympics, it will also be redeveloped into condos and park land.

“Expo 86 will be remembered for the warm, friendly spirit that existed among the exhibitors, staff, 8000 volunteers and visitors.” according to Kim O'Leary[20]

It put Vancouver on the map by making it into a major tourist attraction.

State of Expo 86 attractions

The former Expo 86 monorail, Swiss built Von Roll Seilbahnen AG Mark II, is now installed at Alton Towers in the United Kingdom.

Some of the lasting contributions of Expo 86 to the city of Vancouver include:

After the fair closed, many of the attractions were auctioned off to buyers. The dispersed Expo 86 buildings include:

The McBarge is currently anchored derelict in Burrard Inlet next to an oil refinery
The pub on the left was the China Gate Restaurant. The lighthouse on the right was a spaceship atop a McDonalds. It is now the Lighthouse Pub in Sechelt BC


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[22] on October 13, 2006, at the former Expo Centre (now renamed the Telus World of Science).

Celebrating 25 years since its opening of Expo 86, Vancouver is Awesome and Yelp teamed up and threw a party at Science World on May 6, 2011.[23]


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.


While opening the World's Fair, Diana, Princess of Wales briefly fainted onto her husband in a crowded hall in the California Pavilion. She recovered quickly in the washroom, and left half an hour later. Prince Charles later said that her fainting spell was a result of heat and exhaustion. However, the Princess confessed several years later that it was actually caused by not having kept down any food for several days a result of her eating disorder. She was chastised by her husband for not "fainting gracefully behind a door."

On May 9, 1986, 9-year-old Karen Ford of Nanaimo, BC died at the Canadian Pavilion. She was crushed while on a revolving turntable that connected two semi-circular theatres 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.[24]

See also


  1. Peter Stoler, Rudolph, Barbara (28 April 1986). "Westward Ho to Expo 86". Time Magazine. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  2. "Transportation -- EXPO 86". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  3. Archives of British Columbia: Trains, Planes and Automobiles
  4. Expo 86 by Kim Patrick O'Leary
  5. 1 2 3 Baker, Rafferty (5 May 2016). "Expo 86 evictions: remembering the fair's dark side". CBC.ca. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  6. http://bobbea.com/expo-86/bctv.html
  7. http://www.bharch.ca/projects/cat/36/id/145
  8. http://www.vancouverisawesome.com/2014/05/08/archie-goes-to-expo-86-the-full-comic-book-online-cc-sarahsaysstuff/
  9. https://books.google.com/books?id=WaUJAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=expo+86+BCTV+pavilion&source=bl&ots=JuN8OyBnYj&sig=EX2pinJjqsr3R968oVkN-I2hByQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rQeVVbH1DYjVsAXB9rp4&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=expo%2086%20BCTV%20pavilion&f=false
  10. "Spirit Lodge". www.imdb.com.
  11. "Expo '86 Vancouver: Spirit Lodge" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts.
  12. "Rainbow War". www.imdb.com.
  13. "Expo '86 Vancouver: Rainbow War" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts.
  14. "Experience Required". www.fastcompany.com.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "PROMINENT VISITORS TO EXPO 86". Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  16. 1 2 Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider, Have Not Been the Same: The Can-Rock Renaissance 1985-1995. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-992-9.
  17. Expo 86. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2013-07-26.
  18. "Canadian Cities Are in Decline". Macleans. 3 June 2002. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  19. "Community Benefits from Development: Improving Neighbourhoods & Enabling Affordable Housing" (PDF). City of Vancouver. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  20. O'Leary, Kim. "Expo 86 - The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  21. "The Upper Clements Park". Annapolis Valley Vacation. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  22. "(untitled)". BC Pavilion. Archived from the original on December 12, 2006.
  23. "Expo86 25th Anniversary Party at Science World". Miss 604. April 26, 2011.
  24. Victim's father wants $100,000 from Expo, Associated Press, Spokane Chronicle - Jun 19, 1986, pg A2
  25. Kronbauer, Bob (May 8, 2014). "Archie and the gang visit EXPO 86 – the full comic book, online!". Vancouver Is Awesome. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
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