I have written before about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires made an appearance to debut the ska, along with numerous other Jamaican musicians, vocalists, dancers, and delegates, but did you know there was another World’s Fair where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed? Expo ’67 in Montreal was an incredibly popular and well-attended World’s Fair, so successful that organizers extended the length of the fair beyond the October 27th end by two days, on October 29th. It was such an important event for Montreal that they even named a baseball team after the festival–the Montreal Expos. The fair kicked off on April 28th, 1967 and a number of notable musicians performed at Expo 67 including The Supremes during a live broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show, Petula Clark, Thelonious Monk, The Tokens, Jefferson Airplane, Tiny Tim, and even the Grateful Dead. Numerous dignitaries from around the world attended, including Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace, Charles de Gaule, and perhaps most interesting for those fans of Jamaican music–Harry Belafonte and Haile Selassie.
But fans of Jamaican music know best of Expo 67 from the Melodians’s tune, Last Train to Expo 67, recorded for Duke Reid in 1967. It might be hard to take a train from Jamaica to Montreal, but trains were popular objects in Jamaican music (and all music, really) as symbols of transition, movement, and escape. Perhaps some collectors even know of the Diamonds’ Expo ’67 (Silhouette) recorded on the JDI label, for Copley Johnson. of the same name.
Expo 67 was an important event for Jamaica. The Daily Gleaner on June 2, 1967 reported that the Jamaica Military Band traveled to the fair in August of that year to perform at “Jamaica Day,” August 3rd. The newspaper stated, “‘Jamaica Day’ has been so named by Expo ’67 Authorities as a tribute to Jamaica’s participation in Expo ’67 and the authorities hope that Jamaicans will try and attend on that day. The Jamaica Military Band returns to Canada for the period August 23 to 30 to appear in the Calypso ’67 Carnival in Gait and later in Toronto. This tour is being arranged by the Jamaica Tourist Board and the band is part of the Jamaican participation.”
Edward Seaga, who was at that time Minister of Finance and Planning, also attended Expo 67 on Jamaica Day and he also met with dignitaries on economic and trade matters. Prime Minister Hugh Shearer also attended. In December, 1967, Shearer received a gold medal of commemoration from Expo 67 officials for their participation in the fair which exceeded attendance expectations.
Tony Cohen, also known as “Caps,” said in a Jamaica Gleaner article in 1995 that Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed during Jamaica Day. Cohen was a percussionist and sometimes vocalist for the band. He stated, “I recall with pride our performance on Jamaica Day at the Montreal Expo in 1967. Thirty five thousand persons were in attendance. That was my first concert outside of Jamaica. It was magnificent, awesome.” The band performed on Thursday, August 3, 1967 at a reception for Shearer at the fair, which was followed by a performance of the National Dance Theatre Company.
Even though Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed, and even though there were songs commemorating the fair, the focus was not on music this time around, as it was during the World’s Fair in 1964 in New York. This time, the focus was on cocktails. That’s right, cocktails. Jeffrey Stanton on the westland.net website describes the Jamaica Pavilion as the following:
“The Jamaican pavilion was a replica of a 19th century two-story country shop. It was constructed of thick, sand-colored plaster walls with shuttered upper windows and a cedar shingle roof. The entrance was through a small courtyard attached to the main pavilion. Panels and displays in the open entranceway told the proud story of the island’s industrial, social and cultural progress. The visitor passed through carved wooden doors into a smaller foyer displaying artistic works, and into the large bar, a cool, high ceilinged oasis. Barrels of rum, coffee and ginger lined the upper balcony and baskets and cylindrical wicker fish traps hung from the heavy beams. Cases along the walls displayed a wide variety of Jamaican products. Bartenders served the tastiest, most thirst quenching rum punch at Expo. Jamaican hostesses dressed in vibrant pink and orange, offered a choice of a Soon Come Sling, Half Moon Haze, or Look Behind Ambush rum punch to visitors seated at corner tables.”
Above is a photo of the Jamaican pavilion in recent years, as well as one from 1967 during the fair.
Below are a few of the cocktails available at Expo 67 at the Jamaica Pavilion which were described in a brochure.
See a promotional video for Expo ’67 HERE.
Listen to the Melodians’ song HERE.
Listen to the Diamonds’ song HERE.
1 thought on “Last Train to Expo ’67”
Wow can’t thank you enough Ms Augustyn for this exhaustive piece of research ! Expo 67 was somehow a catalyst to prompt a number of West Indian individuals & families – my mother in law for instance – to come settle in Canada. And of course over a span of a few months kids like me were exposed to an outside world we barely knew.