Expo 2012: Where’s Canada?
The world came to Canada in 1967 and 1986, but our country is not participating in expositions elsewhere
By Michael Geller, Special to the Sun May 30, 2012
Expo 2012 has a theme of The Living Ocean and Coast, something that Canada should have a lot to contribute to, but we will not be there in Yeosu, Korea.
This summer, 105 countries are gathering in Yeosu, a mid-sized port city on Korea’s southern coast. They are participating in Expo 2012, an international exposition on the theme The Living Ocean and Coast. It is a sad irony that Canada, which has as its motto From Sea to Sea, is not among the participating countries.
Canada was one of the few major countries that declined Korea’s invitation to participate for economic reasons. Another was Greece. While one can appreciate why Greece chose not participate, it is very disappointing that Canada is not at the fair.
England also decided not to participate. Its absence is equally ironic since it was in England in 1851 that the world’s first exposition was held at the Crystal Palace under the title Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.
Over the subsequent 161 years, world expositions have provided wonderful opportunities for countries to showcase their accomplishments and contribute to the sharing of knowledge. They have been described as the intellectual equivalent of the Olympics. Many of the objects that we now take for granted were first introduced at world fairs: the steam engine, sewing machine and Morse Telegraph in London in 1851; the elevator in 1853 in New York; the telephone at the 1876 Philadelphia exposition; the gramophone in Paris in 1878; and the automobile at the 1885 fair in Antwerp Belgium.
The Eiffel Tower was the focal point of the 1889 exposition held in Paris and the world’s first Ferris wheel was the attraction at the 1893 Chicago World Fair which also introduced the zipper. In 1939, an invention that was to change the world was introduced in New York City — the television set.
World expositions have addressed many important themes. Many Canadians still remember Expo 67 in Montreal — Man and his World — which changed the world’s perception of Canada. Nineteen years later, what started off as Transpo86, a modest event to celebrate Vancouver’s 100th birthday, eventually became Expo 86 and changed the world’s perception of Vancouver.
There are many reasons why Expo 86 succeeded despite the many hurdles along the way. But part of its success can be attributed to the fact that we invited the world, and it came, including South Korea. This is one reason why Canadians should be embarrassed with Canada’s decision not to participate at Yeosu Expo 2012.
Some may agree with the government’s decision not to fund a pavilion, especially when there are homeless people on the streets and a multitude of other priorities having to manage without federal funding. Moreover, it is no longer necessary to travel to a place to see the latest invention. We now have the Internet to transfer information around the world.
However, just as there is value in world travel, attending trade shows and international conferences, there are significant benefits from participating in a world exposition. Some are tangible and can be measured in economic terms; others are less tangible.
As was the case at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, a World Fair is often the first opportunity for millions of people to learn about another country. This can result in tourism, educational exchanges and the potential for greater world harmony.
There can also be significant business opportunities. For these reasons, it was not necessary for the Canadian government to finance all the costs of a pavilion. Instead, it could have been a facilitator, fostering partnerships with the private sector, which is how the United States pavilions were funded at Shanghai’s Expo 2010 and Yeosu.
Expo 2012 Yeosu calls upon the world’s nations to preserve and protect the endangered ocean and coastal ecosystems. Sub-theme buildings examine climate and environment, marine industry and technology, marine civilization, and the marine life.
While the Yeosu fair is considerably smaller than the Shanghai fair, it does showcase Korea’s emergence as a major industrial and technological nation. International corporations such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai offer fascinating ideas and concepts for the future and, not surprisingly, there are spectacular multimedia shows and visual effects. The Expo Digital Gallery, a 218-metre-long and 30-metre-wide LED screen covering the central concourse features digital whales created from visitors’ photos swimming through the ocean.
There are displays on desalination; proposals to create biofuels and plastics from seaweed and other marine resources; and models of floating homes and underwater cities. While some of these ideas may seem incredible, so did the elevator, automobile and television set when they were first introduced at World’s Fairs.
It is too late for Canada to be at Yeosu. And sadly, the federal government has backed out of supporting Edmonton’s bid for Expo 2017, which was to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday. But I hope we will participate at Milan’s Expo 2015. After all, we would not dream of missing the Olympic Games. We should not be missing these intellectual Olympics either.
Michael Geller is an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer. For more information about EXPO 2012 Yeosu go to http://eng.expo2012.kr/main.html Additional information can also be found at www.gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun