Beer at Montreal’s Expo ’67

I grew up in Montreal and was 17 when “Expo 67” started. I have spoken frequently of international expositions held since the mid-1800s, in connection with alcoholic beverage that is. Most recently I was writing of British beer at New York’s two world fairs, in 1939 and 1964, but Montreal’s exposition in 1967 should not be omitted.

Its full title, in grand Victorian style, was the 1967 Universal and International Exposition, part of a series running since the early 1800s. The nickname Expo 67 caught on early.

The theme of Expo 67 was Man and His World (Terre Des Hommes), which provided a striking sub-title.

The hosting by Montreal of an international exposition was a landmark in its history and indeed for Canada in general. Expo 67 is well-remembered and is occasionally commemorated in museum and other exhibits. A museum in Montreal, the McCord, just held a retrospective on fashion and clothing design at the Expo.

Expo 67 was held on a number of islands in the St. Lawrence River, the main one was St. Helen’s Island. They were reached from Montreal by its new rubber-wheeled subway. I visited over the summer a number of times but as it is 50 years ago, I can barely remember the exhibits. I know I saw the Biosphere – Buckminster’s Fuller’s geodesic dome – and some of the other national pavilions.

There were also many themed and private pavilions at the Expo.

Some expositions exercise an enduring cultural and other influence on the host countries and beyond; Expo 67 did that for Canada, certainly. An example of concurrent international influence was the Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie’s layered, irregular-shape apartment complex, Habitat, intended as permanent and a luxe habitation today.

Britain built a pavilion in the white “brutalist” style then popular, and Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub was part of it. Whitbread pale ale and Mackeson stout were some of the offerings. The Bulldog used a gable roof design as the pub in New York did only three years earlier but intentionally or otherwise also resembles a Quebec chalet. You see buildings like the one below everywhere in the wintering and summering parts of the Province, the look is still chic.

Each pavilion had an eating place and many featured beers of distinction from the exhibiting countries.

To give a flavour of the culinary offerings at Expo, this extract from a contemporary Canadian article, “The Wondrous Fair”, is helpful (and surprisingly modern in style – except the prices). The author was Frank Rasky:

If your taste runs to unorthodox soup, I’d recommend the 50 cent plate of black bean Habanera, which is accurately described by maître d’ Isadoro Arditti of Cuba’s cha cha restaurant as “fiery as our tropical sun.”

….

I had an equivalent hair-raising experience at the Moskva, the 1,000-seat restaurant in the Russian pavilion that looks massive enough to be a rocket-launching pad. I ordered a plate of Ukrainian borsch, (85 cents), and three Russian bliny ($1.10).

It was disappointing all around. The service was terrible. I had to wait three-quarters of an hour, meanwhile listening to a musician strum his balalaika to interminable, melancholy variations of the Volga Boat Song.

When my order did arrive, my overly-garlicked borsch was not half as tasty as the sweet cabbage soup my Russian grandmother used to make. And the buckwheat pancakes, I thought, would have tasted better with maple syrup rather than with their heavy garnish of sour cream.

I tried to drown my sorrow by asking the bar captain to mix me the strongest vodka drink the Russians had in stock. He turned out to be a vodka connoisseur with the highly unSlavic name of Eddy Sullivan – an Irishman from San Antonio, Texas, who worked for the French-Canadian Québec Sports Service. He poured me out a 75 proof shot of Moscow Starka ($1.50 plus 12 cents tax), which was scarlet-colored instead of the white vodka we are accustomed to. A wow of a drink.

For good measure, he also offered me a 10-year-old Russian brandy called Sturnik ($2 plus 16 cents tax). I was astonished to find it smoother and mellower than the finest French cognac, and it packed the wallop of a Molotov cocktail as well. I left the Soviet pavilion glowing with international amity and resisting the impulse to spring into a Cossack sabre dance.

Among other morsels I hugely enjoyed were: the roget rensdyr, or smoked reindeer, at the Scandinavian Midnight Sun snack bar ($2 a helping, a little gamey, but piquant when served with asparagus on a Danish smoerrebroed open-faced sandwich); the thick-crusted kirshwasser wine tart for 90 cents at the Swiss grotto and the paper-thin-crusted apfelstrudel for 65 cents at the Vienna Woods cafe; a mouth-watering crêpe Normande at Belgium’s Le Bruxelles restaurant (a $1.75 apple pancake soaked in brandy and caramel); and Israel’s kosher marriage with the Arabs – a $1.15 plate of falafel (Arabic beans ground into a savory dip) served with pita bread (a crusty pocket of baked dough).

By and large, imported beer is costly, but the cosy atmosphere of the beer gardens helps make up for the steep tariff. At Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub, you pay $1.08 for a pint of good Mackeson stout and $2.43 for a Melton Mowbray pork pie with potato salad and a roll.

At the Löwenbrau München Bavarian restaurant in La Ronde, it seems exorbitant to pay $1.08 for a small stein of beer, half of it foam. Yet it’s entertaining to listen to the brassy Munich band blare out a polka and to watch the waitresses in short dirndl skirts and Alpine hats dart about with their $3.92 plates of salad and wiener schnitzel.

 

At 17, I did not drink as yet but as I’m writing this, I have a distinct recollection of gurgling down some Montreal ale from bottles I or a friend – probably I – brought with our lunch to eat at Expo. There were areas to picnic and I think we chose a secluded lawn to catch a nip with our sandwich.

Beer got a star billing at Expo in the form of the Brewers’ Pavilion, a project of the Canadian Brewers Association (now Beer Canada) that showcased the industry. The pavilion had a hall with historical and production exhibits. There was a sizeable puppet theatre, where kids could be lodged while parents diverted themselves in their way, and also a large restaurant called La Brasserie.

Sadly I didn’t visit the pavilion, or have no recollection if I did. Reports today state some 60 beers were offered from across Canada, bottled and draft, at the restaurant. Note the stylized barrel design of the rotundas.

Departing visitors were given a souvenir brochure that outlined the importance of the industry in Canada and contained numerous beer-and-food recipes and hosting suggestions. The document was issued both in English and French but I could only find the French version online. Two extracts appear herein including the title page.

The document was stylishly produced with striking, gaily-coloured illustrations. The images combine urban chic with the informality of active lifestyles. The pictures capture the spirit of those days.

I should add French Canada itself had a kind of international début at Expo, it was a chance to show the world how French-speakers were part of the urban and industrial mainstream. Earlier in Quebec history the province tended to be withdrawn, a defence strategy that allowed French-speaking life to survive in a sea of anglophone culture.

The introversion showed in politics, at times right-wing and reactionary, and in what many felt was excessive domination by the clergy. There was also a strong focus on the professions, the church and teaching as careers versus full participation in modern economic life.

By 1967, the long domination by Anglophones in commerce started to wane and Expo 67 showed the world French Canada could take its full place in contemporary urban society. (Incidentally as I write Conrad Black reports in the National Post that Quebec, after a long period of relative decline in part due to post-1960s separatist agitation, has the fastest growing economy in Canada).

From a beer standpoint, the 1967 industry document is rather astonishing in that it virtually has nothing to say about beer itself, as a drink that is, its styles, its taste. Almost nothing. The product is treated as completely generic. Once or twice it is stated that beer is either lager or ale, with the implication the difference is hardly relevant.

Only once* is another beer style mentioned, porter, and not even to drink but as an ingredient in the Québecois dish fèves au lard, or beans and bacon. The lengthy document never states what porter is or shows an image. If I recall correctly, it does not discuss hops either, barley is mentioned once or twice.

To some degree this is understandable as the document was a joint industry effort. Still, the lack of emphasis on the sensory qualities of beer and the different types – beer qua beer – is étonnant.

In the next 50 years beer would return to its roots as a distinctive product of gastronomy with a renewed focus on its history, national styles, and highways and byways of flavour.

Of course, earlier in Quebec history a much fuller gamut of flavours was in the market: different kinds of ale, different kinds of lager, different kinds of black beer. But that older tradition had withered with increasing consolidation of the industry and uniformity in the product. That has since been completely reversed and then some.

Still, the 1967 recipes and industry snapshot are interesting to read and most of the recipes look very good. Many are of traditional Quebec foods where it was felt beer could add an élan, some are clearly of international inspiration.

The drink called “bul” is interesting. I have a recollection of an old English compound of some kind being called bull but couldn’t find an example of it elsewhere**. (It would surprise me if that drink in turn doesn’t have something to do with the Red Bull beverage).

Bull may have been one of those old English mixtures, like shandy-gaff, dog’s nose and so forth. A number of foods and drinks which pop up as French-Canadian after WW II are really English colonial in origin.

Indeed the beans and bacon recipe seems of this character vs. old French:

The first recipe above would serve as a good vegetarian main course today if the sugar was lightened considerably and another vegetable or two added. I’d mix sweet potato with the white, as well.

In a subsequent post I’ll look further at the 1967 recipes and the Brewers Pavilion.

Note re website sources of images: the first and second images above were located here and here. The third here, the fourth here. The last and third-to-last were sourced from the 1967 brewers’ publication linked in the text. The image of the Whitbread Tankard, a commemorative item from the Expo 67 fair, was sourced hereAll property in the images belongs to solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Porter is mentioned also (I later noted) in the section on different mixtures for drinks: beer cocktails and similar. Stout is mentioned too in the same connection. But no taste description of these beers or production details are given. These products had of course significantly declined in sales by 1967, but still, information on classic beer styles should have been offered, IMO.

**I later found the references in question, see in the Comments section below on this point.

9 thoughts on “Beer at Montreal’s Expo ’67

  1. Here Alan, I found it: look at the fifth definition of bull from the bottom and the seventh from the top, on pg. 201 in Cassell’s: https://books.google.ca/books?id=5GpLcC4a5fAC&pg=PA201&lpg=PA201&dq=bull+slang+for+drink&source=bl&ots=2AdVTaieu7&sig=nFnnKQWUxSCQ14nf0r7Pop9Vz9A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjqtoD86oTXAhWD5YMKHc4iDZIQ6AEIPzAF#v=onepage&q=bull%20slang%20for%20drink&f=false

    So in England, there was a sense of bull meaning diluted or weakened, e.g. a second run of tea. Or the sense of washing a rum or whisky cask with water to get a weak spirit, I think that’s where I saw the term earlier. Maybe the term was used to describe small beer, run off the grains when most of the extract had been taken by the previous brews. You must be right that it derives from Dutch, probably when the Flemings came, must have been their slang. I’ll discuss the Quebec recipe itself tomorrow.

    Gary

    • Yes, I just posted a comment which supports that.

      What I meant was, the sense of bull from an animal for Red Bull makes sense because there are other drinks in other languages that use bull in a more or less similar context.

      It may therefore be a coincidence that the mixture group and this other group share the same name, but for Red Bull itself I’m not 100% sure still. Maybe both connotations were intended.

      I’ve found in this work you need to push to the end, sometimes the results are surprising…

      Gary

  2. Yes, but we’re discussing the word “Bull” or “Bul” meaning “mixture”.
    “Boel” in Dutch.
    I’m not sure what it has to do with Hungarian wine.
    Your original thesis is correct.
    It means a mixture.
    Alan.

  3. True, but apparently “Bull” is a translation of “Gaur”, which means, more or less, “Bull.”
    Nothing of interest there.
    I’d looked to the Germanic languages.
    Alan.

  4. Gary.
    Superb post.
    I too attended the Expo, albeit in a “stroller”, at the age of six months, if I remember correctly.
    Amazing that beer was even a “thing” back in 1967, especially at a world event such as this.
    Red Bull is originally Thai if I’m not mistaken, but “bul”, or “beol” in Dutch, means mess or mixture. So you’re correct that it’s a compound of something.
    Alan.

    • Thanks Alan, I’ll look into Red Bull a bit more. I knew of the Asian origin but the name is English. Of course the Dutch were in the far east too…

  5. Very interesting Andrew, thanks for these recollections. I remember those square pies too, they were dispensed from a machine at McGill Law School. The cafeteria was in the basement of the Victorian part of the structure, the oldest part. My favourite was raisin pie which may yet be another distant English importation. 🙂

    Gary

  6. I was only four in 1967 but we were at Expo very frequently that summer — we had passes from my uncle, who worked on the publicity campaign. I remember certain things with clarity, augmented by questions later anwered by my parents. The arrival of guava juice in Ottawa supermarkets in the early 1980s sparked the memory of a drink that turned out to have been guava juice that I had consumed for the first time at the Cuban pavillion. I also remember little fruit pies in cardboard boxes, bought from a machine. When I lived in the Plateau Mont-Royal in the mid-1980s, I learned that those pies of yore had been made at a large bakery at the corner of Laurier and Jeanne-Mance. Of beer, of course, no recollection, though I do remember those bad old days when one Canadian beer tasted more or less like all the others. My friends and I started brewing our own beer from kits in the later 1970s and achieved a much great range of taste than anything then available except in the new, expensive “pubs” that were popping up in the larger cities, offering such exotic delicacies as draft Guinness, Newcastle Brown, and Bass Ale.

    Imagine my disappointment when we left Montreal that September to live in Ontario, passing from that bright metropolitan vision if the future into a colonial version of rural Ulster in which the Catholics were represented by French-Canadians who spoke a quaint 19th-century version of French that I could hardly understand. I do remember the fussy little order counters at the dour Orangemen’s version of a liquor store, the LCBO, and the rush and secrecy of most customers. How different a world that was from Montreal! I wonder if that sudden dip into a fast-receding world was what led to my becoming a historian.

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