Fifty-five years ago, Canada celebrated its 100th birthday with a world’s fair called Expo ’67, still widely hailed as one of the great world-fair events of the 20th century. Millions attended and 62 countries participated. Expo 67 proved so popular that the next summer it was revived at the same site, under the name A Man and His World.
TT participated in a big way. Celebrating five years of independence, the country collaborated with Grenada in a pavilion and sent dozens of musicians and performers to the event, where they spent months. Dancer Hazel Franco, who was part of it and who would go on to co-ordinate and teach dance at UWI for over three decades, recalls, “We departed Trinidad in April and came back in November.”
Bert Henry was the director of performances, Wayne Berkeley the mas/costume designer, Torrance Mohammed and Cyril St Lewis the choreographers and Olive Walke led the choir.
There were craft exhibits, especially weaving and pottery, and many of TT’s leading painters, designers and sculptors were represented, including Sybil Atteck, Althea McNish, LeRoy Clarke, and Boscoe Holder. The TT pavilion had a mural by Carlisle Chang and outside there was a steelpan structure created by metalworker Ken Morris.
There were so many performers and staff that finding a place to house everyone was a challenge and great camaraderie developed.
Franco recalled, “They rented a whole apartment building. We had a whole ceremony to hoist the TT flag on the building. We left it up, and it just stayed there for the whole time that we were there.”
The TT and Grenada pavilion had a multilevel futuristic design. Besides the exhibits, it had an auditorium that was advertised as “holding up to 80 performers and 250 spectators, shows will be continuous, with folk dancing and singing, calypso singing, spectacular Limbo shows and steelband music.”
The Mighty Bomber was commissioned to write and record a calypso publicising the event though he did not get to come and perform, and instead it was Young Killer who became the resident calypsonian. There were also both a resident steelband and visiting ones. From late afternoon well into the evening there was a rotating set of half-hour performances.
Indian classical music was part of the shows, with five musicians and two dancers led by violinist Narsaloo Ramaya, with dholak, concertina, dhantal, harmonium and vocalist.
There was a contingent of Carnival costumes to parade from leading masmen such as George Bailey and Stephen Lee Heung and a limbo group. Errol Hill’s play Man Better Man, which had been presented at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Britain earlier in the year, was revived for Expo 67.
The commemorative booklet noted: “The ground floor exhibit area shows historical material, paintings, sculpture and literature. There is a colourful display of carnival costumes, and Grenada, renowned as the spice island of the West, has a display… entitled ‘The story of Nutmeg.’”
Over the course of the summer, it was TT’s national instrument that was on greatest display. Bill Cotter, in his book on Expo ’67, noted: “The pavilion may be best remembered, though, for the lively steel band performances held on the small stage that jutted out into the large pool facing the building.”
Ebony magazine described the pavilion as having “a bar serving Caribbean specialities. Visitors are able to sip their drinks from a veranda overlooking a lagoon where a steel band plays the latest tunes.”
The primary steelband that performed all summer was a “combined forces steelband made up of members of the Army, Coast Guard and Police Forces.” They were led by police band arranger Anthony Prospect. They returned the next year as the Exponians and did a cross-Canada tour.
In addition, other groups that were not part of the pavilion contingent came and performed. Julia Edwards’s dance troupe stayed for a substantial time and both Trinidad Tripoli – then known as the Esso Trinidad Steel Band – and the National Steelband made appearances during 1967 and 1968.
A tourist who saw Tripoli at Expo was very impressed by their performance:
“Set on a lagoon, this idyllic reflection of West Indies culture featured generously spiked island drinks and a 28-piece steel drum band. Sponsored by the Esso Oil Company, the ‘Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steelband’ was dressed in flamboyant calypso costumes and performed a remarkable mix of music on their steel drums, all of which bore the Esso logo.
“Not only did we hear island music (Ride on Sammy and Simple Calypso) and the popular music of the day (Downtown and Somewhere My Love) but also we were treated to steelband arrangements of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz, Strauss's Blue Danube and a Chopin Intermezzo.”
Pianist and showman Liberace saw Tripoli and was so impressed that he arranged to take them on tour with him in the US, and that launched their career. Both Esso Trinidad and the Exponians recorded albums in Montreal with covers depicting performances at the pavilion.
Units of the TT contingent from the pavilion travelled to perform in Toronto in 1967, forming a key force to start Caribana. Franco recalled they travelled elsewhere that first year: “We also went to Ottawa, Quebec City, and even to St John and Fredericton in New Brunswick.” In 1968, a troupe travelled all the way to Winnipeg to perform under the name the Calypso Festival ’68.
Meanwhile, many of the performers who came for Expo ’67 felt that there were unique opportunities in Montreal and emigrated there in the next few years, including Bert Henry, who would return to develop a theatre programme at Dawson College, and dancers Christopher Jordan and Selwyn Joseph, who became active members of the dance community in Montreal. Over half a dozen members of the Exponians migrated to Montreal and continued to play pan for many years to come.
There is no doubt that the TT pavilion was very popular, and thousands of visitors got their first sense of the richness of TT culture from the displays and performances at Expo 67.