Vancouver's Expo 86 Book

Comments 6 by Rebecca Bollwitt

As we prepare to welcome the world in just 15 days I thought I would take a look back at the last time Vancouver hosted an event of global proportions. I was recently sent a copy of the book, Vancouver’s Expo 86 to read and review.

Expo 86 was a multi-month world’s fair that took place across, over and through downtown Vancouver by land and sea welcoming over 22 million visitors. With the theme of “transportation” its nickname became “Transpo 86” with some of its legacies being the SkyTrain, Canada Place, Science World and the Coquihalla Highway.

The bulk of Expo took place along the vacant industrialized shores of north False Creek. Once the fair moved out the area lay restless and dormant until the City of Glass began to be developed and the shimmering towers of Yaletown emerged.

Expo 86 - What Yaletown used to look like... kinda

The book, “Vancouver’s Expo 86” features an amazing personal collection of photographs from author Bill Cotter and I love that it highlights that it was also timed around Vancouver’s 100th birthday. The way its laid out is pretty much like a photo essay, which helps tell a very detailed story of how Expo even came to be and what it grew into.

Expo 86 - Boom boats

Seeing photos of pavilions coming together is almost eerie as Vancouverites can walk around today and see the same sort of thing happening in some of the same areas. You can also view the McBarge in all its floating burger-selling glory as well as profiles of every participating nation’s pavilion.

Expo 86 - The McBarge!

Each chapter represents a “zone”… Purple, Red, Blue, Pink, Green and Yellow. The first thing that pops into my head are those colour-coded benches that live on in some form scattered across the Lower Mainland. To date, I have spotted some down along the promenade in White Rock and also at Cultus Lake Park.

Expo86 Relic

All of the pictures are in black and white, which I assume is for consistency, and the book does end rather abruptly after profiling the USA pavilion. Other than that, it’s a great virtual photo-walk through Vancouver in 1986. I would recommend Vancouver’s Expo 86 for long-time residents (to take that stroll down memory lane) or those newer to Vancouver as the maps and images tell a story of a not-so-different time in our city.

Disclosure: – I was given a review copy of the book.

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6 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Keira-AnneThursday, January 28th, 2010 — 11:14am PST

    I friggin’ loved Expo ’86. I keep meaning to scan pictures of me in my bell-bottom pants with a bowl cut from those days we spent there. In my teens I went through a phase of collecting souvenirs at thrift stores. I’m pretty sure I still have a life-sized stuffed Expo Ernie in my mom’s garage.

  2. JulieThursday, January 28th, 2010 — 11:24am PST

    I was 26 years old and the the staff writer for the Canada Pavilion and it was the year I grew up right along with my adopted city. I loved that time; there really was “something happening here” as the song said…

    One of my favourite memories–my husband and I were walking along the water where boats from around the world were tied up and there was a young sailor–probably the same age as us–from Malaysia sitting on the back of his boat. He waved us over and we had a long “conversation” using only sign language and he eventually invited us up onto the deck to enjoy a beer from his homeland. (Turned out Malaysian beer had been used for ballast!) The sun went down and we mostly just sat there with big stupid grins on our faces until it was time to go home. It was my lingering snapshot of what was best about Expo ’86.

    I often think about that guy and wonder what his memories are of that time.

    I think we might get another chance to make those kinds of memories during the 2010 Olympics…

  3. DarrenThursday, January 28th, 2010 — 11:50am PST

    I was curious, and I see there’s a decent Expo 86 group on Flickr:

  4. Keira-AnneThursday, January 28th, 2010 — 3:12pm PST

    @Julie – That said, I still have the official theme song on cassette tape somewhere.

  5. Bill CotterFriday, January 29th, 2010 — 9:52am PST

    Thanks for the review of my book. It was a fun project for me to be able to turn the clock back to 1986. I hope it captured some of the energy that Expo brought to life. The book series uses B&W photos for several reasons (cost of color, and as you guessed, for consistency with other titles in the series that rely on vintage B&W photos). You can see more of Expo in color on my website. We also have a world’s fair discussion group with an Expo 86 section at

    Thanks for the kind words!


  6. Denis MarchildonThursday, June 24th, 2010 — 11:02am PDT

    Hi! I was 19 at the time and one of the “Yellow Jackets” working as a host at the Canada Pavilion. What a blast we had that summer! Next year will be the 25th anniversary of Expo 86. I am trying to find out if there will be any celebrations to commemorate the event. Anybody knows?


    Denis Marchildon, Montreal, Qc

    P.S. Bill, I am buying your book!

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