There wasn’t supposed to be a Pavilion of Judaism at Expo 67. The exposition’s commissioner general, Pierre Dupuy, had wanted to showcase all religions in a single pavilion which would underscore the “common unifying force of world religions,” as described in Gary R. Miedema’s For Canada’s Sake. Dupuy’s idea didn’t come to pass, and upon hearing of plans for a Christian Pavilion, Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat of the Shaar Hashomayim took the initiative of creating a Jewish presence. He first approached the Israel Pavilion’s planners in hopes of incorporating a synagogue there. When his request was refused, he turned to the local Jewish community. With the financial backing of both Sam Steinberg and Sam Bronfman, plans for a Pavilion of Judaism were quickly approved by the Expo’s organizers and the Canadian Jewish Congress. This pavilion marked the second official Jewish presence at a worldwide expo and the first since Chicago’s World Fair in 1933.
Earnest work on the Pavilion, designed by architect Harry Stillman, began in 1966. The organizers chose two verses from the Mishna (an ancient codex Jewish law) tractate Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) as the guiding framework to complement Expo 67’s theme of Man and his World. The committee worked closely with the Israel Pavilion in order to avoid content overlap, and sought to present Judaism as having a universal message. The Pavilion ultimately included a working synagogue, but the biggest draw was a reproduction of the Temple of Jerusalem (sources differ on which Temple it was). In addition the Pavilion included a modest Holocaust memorial, one of the earliest in North America. Otto Frank lent several pages of his daughter Anne’s famous diary to the Pavilion.
The Pavilion of Judaism was not without its critics; a writer in the Jewish Spectator complained it failed to show the “grandeur” of Jewish thought and accomplishments. However the Pavilion was considered a great success for both the Jews of Montreal and of Canada. Throughout the six-month exhibition several hundreds of thousands of people visited, including Cardinal Léger, whose visit was considered a highlight and represented the recent strengthening of ties between Jews and French-Canadians. After the end of Expo 67, the Pavilion remained open at the behest of Mayor Jean Drapeau for another two years.
The Pavilion of Judaism stands as symbol of what could be considered the pinnacle of the Montreal Jewish community, which was now firmly entrenched in the middle-class but had yet to live through the political tensions of the 1970s. By creating an independent pavilion on par with the Christian Pavilion, the Montreal Jewish community demonstrated a sense of openness, confidence and unity.
Written by Pascale Greenfield
Brenner, Rabbi Reeve. “ 'Expo 67': In Retrospect.” Jewish Spectator. (February, 1968). Retrieved from reevebrenner.com.
Miedema, Gary R. For Canada’s Sake: Public Religion, Centennial Celebrations, and the Re-making of Canada in the 1960s. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005. Print.
Troper, Harold. The Defining Decade: Identity, Politics, and the Canadian Jewish Community in the 1960s. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Print.
Additional documents on the Pavilion of Judaism provided by Sara Tauben.
*Images courtesy of Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives & Harry Stillman.