The History of Yugoslavia's Pavilion at Montreal's 1967 World EXPO

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

By the time the 1960s arrived, many of the architectural trends across the globe were being criticized that they created cities of bland boxy structures, crafted only in terms of being economically "sensible" and their potential to pack humans tightly together. As one source notes, "it was exactly this unexciting style that the business society welcomed, but the effect was boring and it deprived cities a sense of identity." As a response to such criticisms, when officials began planning the 1967 World Expo, held that year in Montreal, Canada, the participating countries were encouraged to be as architecturally bold and imaginative as possible in their pavilion designs. What resulted was some of the most spectacular and innovative architecture of the decade. From the Buckminster Fuller sphere of the USA pavilion, to the futuristic Habitat 67 model community, to the inverted pyramid of the Canadian pavilion, the 1967 Expo was a marvel of forward-thinking and progressive space-age design, just two years before man was to finally land on the moon. Heralded under the theme "Man and his World", the Expo captured the fantastic energy and optimism that existed during this time period, where anything and everything seemed possible, while the architecture on exhibition seemed to hint at a tomorrow that was beyond belief and right at our fingertips. Beyond being just hyper-modern, the architectural offerings of the Expo were also meant to be culturally unifying. As explained in a 2014 paper by Inderbir Singh Riar, "The resulting well-known Expo 67 theme, Man and His World, was a [praise of] contemporary humanism, which was first used... to reject the most enduring symbols of world exhibitions: the nation-state and its emblematic architecture. They imagined new kinds of architecture that could somehow engender new senses of political consciousness... outside nationalist chauvinism." Thus, the Expo 67 built environment was meant to communicate a sense of a collective "global" architecture, oriented not only towards the future, but also towards a sense of utopian togetherness and universalism.

A postcard view of the impressive Canada pavilion at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal.
Some advertising and promotional material used by the 1967 World Expo in Montreal.

It was within the backdrop of this imposing atmosphere that Yugoslavia intended to create their pavilion for the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, which would be only their second participation in a World's Fair event since the end of WWII (the first one being Brussels in 1958). As such, Yugoslavia had every intention for their architectural contribution to this historic event to be as progressive and tantalizing as those of the the dozens of other participating countries in the Expo. Though, despite these intentions, the process of the conception and creation of the pavilion was fraught with controversy (between architects and between political groups), while their completed pavilion presented at the Expo did not receive the attention or praise that government officials back in Yugoslavia hoped it would attract. Yet, despite the frazzled process leading to its creation and its lackluster performance as an architectural object during the Expo, the Yugoslav pavilion's legacy could be argued to be much more impactful and longer lasting than the majority of the Expo's pavilions. Designed originally as a 'temporary structure', after the Expo's conclusion, the pavilion was relocated to the Canadian island of Newfoundland, where it was repurposed as a "Provincial Seamen's Museum" in the town of Grand Bank. Thus, the pavilion has greatly transcended its original intention, adopting an unexpected history that survives on and endures up to the present day, making it an unquestionably unique relic in the history of Yugoslav architecture.

A vintage postcard showing the Yugoslav pavilion at the 1967 World's Expo in Montreal.

Yet, despite the unusual fate of this iconic and historic artifact, little is written about it and even those who live near it now in Grand Bank are often unaware of its unique story. As such, this article will explore the history of the Yugoslav pavilion, from its inception, its life during the 1967 Expo, and its final form as a museum to the maritime history of Newfoundland.

 

The Conception & Construction of the Yugoslav Pavilion

Originally, the 1967 World's Expo was meant to be hosted by the Soviet Union, the bid for which they had won back in 1960. However, two years later in 1962, the Soviets unexpectedly canceled their plans to host, at which point the hosting responsibilities were offered to the runner up of that 1960 bid... Montreal, who subsequently accepted the offer. This situation left Canada scrambling to quickly organize the event, already having been deprived of two years of valuable planning time from the start. As such, Canada made great efforts to enlist as many participant countries as possible for an event which many thought impossible to pull off successfully in such a short amount of time. Yugoslavia did not firmly commit to Canada its participation in the event until May of 1965, only two years before the planned opening of the Expo in 1967 and a point at which other participating countries were already in the process of constructing their pavilions in Montreal (making it one of the last participating countries to commit). In explaining its reasoning behind the decision to take part in the Montreal Expo, the Federal Executive Council of Yugoslavia made the following remarks (as recounted in a 2018 paper by Mladen Pešić):

"Participation in this exhibition will have a great political and propaganda significance for the popularization of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, its political and economic system, business and cultural development, especially on the North American continent. Participation in the exhibition will enable a much better acquaintance of the Canadian public with Yugoslavia and will undoubtedly influence the further development and expansion of international relations"

However, after committing to the Expo, Yugoslav government officials took four more months before they were able to announce an official architectural competition, which came finally in September of 1965, only giving architects one month to prepare their submissions. Yet, despite this obscenely short amount of time, 59 architectural design proposals for a "Yugoslav pavilion" were anonymously submitted for consideration by some of the most distinguished architects in the country, which included the likes of Ivan Štraus, Marko Mušič [profile page], Berislav Šerbetić, Vjenceslav Richter (who had built Yugoslavia's pavilion for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels), among many others.


Start on October 15th, the concluding the date for the competition, the selection jury began evaluating all of the submitted proposals. This jury was composed of a mix of Yugoslav politicians, academics, writers, painters, architects and sculptors, which included notable figures such as architect Bogdan Bogdanović [profile page], sculptor Vojin Bakić [profile page], painter Miodrag Protić, architect Uroš Martinović, and numerous others. The jury took only six days of deliberation before they narrowed the 59 proposals down to just six finalists. These six finalists were then given 45 days to refine and re-submit their proposals. As such, on December 10th, 1965, the final results were announced. The first prize of this Yugoslav pavilion competition was awarded to a relatively unknown recent architect-school graduate, 28 year old Belgrade designer Miroslav Pešić. Meanwhile, the second place winner of the competition was none-other than veteran architect Vjenceslav Richter (creator of Yugoslavia's previous 1958 pavilion at Brussels).

An image of the winning concept model for the1967 Montreal Expo Yugoslav pavilion by architect Miroslav Pešić.
An image of the second-place concept model for the pavilion by architect Vjenceslav Richter. Credit: Archive Vjenceslav Richter, MSU Zagreb

The winning concept proposal by Pešić consisted of a building formed of seven modular prism shapes of alternating orientations which were all connected at their broad sides into one long continuous exhibition space. Plans called for six of these prism shapes to be the same size (30m long by 16m tall), though, the center prism of the group was intended to be slightly larger than the rest by roughly 10m. Entirely geometric in scope, the design called for no ornamentation or exterior decoration on the facade, just white walls and sharp defined lines. The only colorful element of the building's entire exterior was to be burnt-orange colored panels covering its three tall top-to-bottom windows and four small lower windows. What symbolic character, if any, Pešić's design was meant convey was not clear. Meanwhile, the second-prize entry by Richter was a concept called "Half-Defined Space", which proposed an open-air pavilion crafted from a separated four-sided pyramidal structure. Within this vaulted amphitheatre-like pavilion, Richter envisioned an array of cylindrical elements to be suspended from the pyramid's ceiling, an inclusion which would have given the whole space an almost sacral atmosphere.


As soon as the results of the competition were announced, they created almost immediate controversy. Many felt that the chosen design was not as ambitious as the pavilions being constructed by other participating nations (or the one proposed by Richter), while others asserted that Pešić's design was chosen on the basis of affordability and ease-of-construction rather than on its architectural merits. Meanwhile, others pointed to the fact that only a small number of the competition's jury members were practicing architects, a factor which some asserted led to a less bold architectural design being chosen. Furthermore, researcher Lara Slivnik, one of the most prominent academic writer on the subject of this pavilion, notes in a 2015 paper that, in addition to the above-mentioned points, when evaluating the debate surrounding the winning pavilion design by Pešić (who was a Serbian architect), versus the runner-up design by Richter(who was a Croatian architect), that it is worth recognizing that "neutral and supportive articles [of Pešić's pavilion] were... published in Serbia, while less favorable opinions were printed in Croatia", indicating that some of the criticism (or praise) towards Pešić's design may have contained an element of ethnic politics.

The Yugoslav pavilion under construction at the Expo grounds in Montreal. Credit: Lara Slivnik/Arhitektura urbanizam, 1967, No. 47

Efforts towards assembling the prefabricated elements of the pavilion began in Yugoslavia in early 1966, which were manufactured in Belgrade by the company "Rad". However, due to the looming deadline which the project was constrained by (as well as Pešić's limited experience as a seasoned architect), other experts were brought in to assist in facilitating the pavilion's completion. Firstly, structural architect and engineer Oskar Hrabovski was brought in to assist Pešić on creating the prefab steel skeletal segments of the pavilion, which, when completed in the summer of 1966, were shipped overseas from Yugoslavia to Montreal, Canada. Then, through the summer of 1966 through January 1967, the prefab segments of Pešić's pavilion were put in place and carefully assembled at Yugoslavia's assigned exhibition space located on the Expo grounds at 'Île Notre-Dame', adjacent to the French and British pavilions (located at THESE coordinates). After the exterior of the structure was completed, the final phase of the pavilion's interior arrangement and exhibit coordination began. However, it was not Pešić who designed the elements of the pavilion's interior and furnished the exhibition space... this was a task that was instead entrusted by the Yugoslav government Expo organizers to the competition's runner-up, architect Vjenceslav Richter — in conventional circumstances, a competition for the design of the interior would have been held, however, due to time constraints and considering the experience Richter already had in designing Expo and fair spaces for Yugoslavia, the commission was granted to him without competition.

A map of a section of the 1967 Montreal Expo showing the location of the Yugoslavia pavilion. Credit: federalidentity.ca

Information on the degree to which Richter and Pešić worked amicably and happily together on this project is not readily available, which would be especially interesting to learn about in the face of the many challenges of controversies, deadlines, distance and time constraints they faced together. However, what is clear is that they were able to work together and succeed in effectively delivering the Yugoslav pavilion to the public on time and in full working order when the Montreal Expo had its grand opening on April 28th, 1967. This Expo quickly became one of the most popular and visited World's Fair event in history, with well over one million people visiting it in just the first three days alone, with the third day by itself attracting nearly 570,000 people (a World's Fair history record). In total, by the Montreal Expo's conclusion on October 29th, 1967, over 50 million people pass through its gates. Now, we will look at the offerings of the Yugoslav pavilion in detail in order to understand what it was exactly that these huge throngs of visitors saw when they came to learn about and experience a small slice of Yugoslavia.

 

The Offerings of Yugoslavia's Pavilion

As the Yugoslav pavilion opened its doors on April 28th, 1967, sources indicate that more than 7 million Expo visitors from around the world poured into the structure over the course of the fair's duration. Within the pavilion laid a huge treasure trove of artifacts, exhibits, installations, and artworks which presented to audiences the life, culture and history of Yugoslavia. Let us now look in detail at these various features of the pavilion, examining what exactly made them so special and how the operated as key factors in communicating the country's heritage.

A view of the exterior of the Yugoslav Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo. Credit: Montreal Archives
A view of the exterior of the Yugoslav Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo. Credit: Joseph Hollick@Flickr

Firstly, other than the pavilion's expressive triangle architecture, the official guidebook of the Montreal Expo would have likely been one of the primary conduits through which visitors would have been brought to Yugoslavia's exhibits. This official guidebook presented Yugoslavia in the following terms:

"The Yugoslav Pavilion on Ile Notre-Dame, close to the Expo-Express station, presents Yugoslavs working for a democratic, prosperous society. It endeavors to portray how, in the story of "Man and his World", Yugoslavia has adopted the special role of a bridge among all countries of the world. It relates a long and colorful history and ancient culture to the dynamic forward impetus of today. There is music to match mood, and art displays, including priceless national treasures and contemporary work. A section devoted to industry treats production not as an end but as a means for a free and democratic life. The close ties that link Canada and the United States to Yugoslavia are remembered, a comradeship that spans two World Wars and years of peace. The pavilion's theater shows feature films from Yugoslavia, documentaries and cartoons, live concerts and folklore programs by Yugoslav artists. Yugoslav export goods are on display, and experts are ready to discuss business opportunities. Literature describing Yugoslavia is available. Culture, the country's role in international affairs, economy and tourism, social system and government are principal theme subjects."
A view of the interior ceiling of the Yugoslav pavilion covered in photo displays. Credit: Cooper.edu

As soon as visitors walked in the door of the pavilion, the first feature they would have most certainly been struck by was a massive array of backlit color photo transparencies covering a large section of the interior's ceiling. Each of these transparency displays, which varied in size and shape, were engineered in such a way that they cycled through a selection of images (changing every few seconds), all showing various scenes of Yugoslavia's urban life, natural landscape, historical artifacts, ancient buildings, and much more. Below these displays were installed a series of swiveling wooden stools for visitors to sit down upon and and rotate around, thus allowing them to take in every inch and perspective of the space. In addition, numerous other photos existed around the pavilion showing Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito on many of his travels around the globe visiting with dignitaries and world leaders. Meanwhile, several large scale size models of Yugoslav infrastructure projects were presented within the pavilion as well, which included the Đerdap Dam on the Danube River (then under construction), the Gazela Bridge in Belgrade (also then under construction), as well as models of the planned city of Velenje, Slovenia [profile page] and the planned post-earthquake reconstruction of the city of Skopje. In addition, a scale model of Belgrade's ambitious and soon-to-be-built "Museum of the Revolution" was presented, which was the work of architect Vjenceslav Richter. Interestingly, similar to Richter's concept for this pavilion, this museum would also never be realized.

A vintage photo showing the interior of the Yugoslav pavilion in Montreal. Credit: Radio Canada archive
A view of the interior of the Yugoslav pavilion at the Montreal Expo. Credit: expo67.ncf.ca

Although Richter did not have the opportunity to build his pavilion here at Montreal, he took his opportunity to design its interior with great enthusiasm. As can be seen in the above photos, Richter assembled an innovative and charismatic space that certainly spoke to both the traditional heritage as well as the modernity of Yugoslavia. The interior was painted white to match the pavilion's exterior, however, in the diagonal ceiling spaces which slanted overhead, Richter installed thin horizontal panels of pine wood, thus giving the pavilion a contemporary yet simultaneously warm and rustic atmosphere. In addition, when looking at these vintage images of the pavilion's interior, one can see unusual metal sculptural installations hanging down from the center of the ceiling. These unique fixtures appear to be very similar to the metal ceiling sculptures which Richter had foreseen in the design for his own pavilion concept. Thus, these metal works may be Richter's own subtle way of incorporating small elements of his own original pavilion concept into the interior of Pešić's pavilion design.

A view of the interior of the Yugoslav pavilion at the Montreal Expo. Credit: Radio Canada archive
A view of the interior of the Yugoslav pavilion at the Montreal Expo. Credit: Radio Canada archive

Meanwhile, around the periphery of the pavilion were glass displays which contained more precious and valuable exhibits and artifacts, from archeological remnants (such as pieces from the ancient Roman town of Sirmium), to religious icons, to the 14th-century manuscript of "Dušan's Code". Then in the lower levels of the pavilion were situated a series of business exhibitions for facilitating cooperation in international commerce, while also downstairs was also a 70-seat theatre which showed a variety of content to audience members, such as Partisan films, Yugoslav cartoons, documentaries and presentations on life and culture across the country. Finally, the last noteworthy feature of the pavilion to mention here is a large illuminated relief map of the country of Yugoslavia laid out horizontally at the building's entrance in order to orient and inform visitors about the geography of the country.

A photo of the illuminated relief map of the country of Yugoslavia inside of the Yugoslav pavilion. Credit: AP archive
 

The Pavilion's Art & Sculpture

One of the most alluring aspects of the cultural offerings at the Yugoslav pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo was its varied collection of art and sculpture on display. This artistic presentations within the pavilion included both works of a traditional and historic nature, as well as works of the contemporary and modern variety. Firstly, significant amounts of religious artwork were presented (which is interesting when compared to the pavilion of the USSR, a fellow communist nation who had little if any religious art on display). Among the religious arts presented at the pavilion were a full scale 16m tall replica of the main fresco of the 12th-century Studenica Monastery near Ivanjica, as well as the original icons of the Visoki Dečani Monastery and the Monastery of St. Clement of Orhid.

A view of the full-size Studenica Monstery fresco replica inside the Yugoslav pavilion. Credit: AP archive

Meanwhile, contemporary and modern art also shared a significant space within the pavilion, as well as installations set around the pavilion's exterior. As you approached the main west entrances to the pavilion from the main avenue, there were two large-scale sculptures that immediately made an impression upon the visitor. The most notable among these was a massive abstract work titled "Metalnoj skulpturi 57" by Zagreb sculptor Dušan Džamonja [profile page], which was composed of a large wooden spherical oval punctured by hundreds of over-sized metal pegs which radiated around the body of the sculpture in a fan-like rhythmic pattern. This eye-catching and charismatic work of ambitious modernism by one of Yugoslavia's most accomplished and exciting sculptors operated as an attractive lure enticing visitors into the pavilion. Also in front of the pavilion near the Džamonja sculpture was yet another large scale modernist work by Bosnian sculptor Boško Kućanski [profile page] (at least it appears to be). Also made of wood, this abstract sculpture of tightly arranged curvingly-carved tree trunk sections was a bold and impressive piece that further worked to display Yugoslavia as a nation on the cutting edge of avant-garde art and sculpture.

A photo of Džamonja's sculpture in front of the pavilion.
A photo of Kućanski's sculpture in front of the pavilion.

Meanwhile, the interior of the pavilion was further populated by an array of works of contemporary post-WWII Yugoslav art and sculpture. One of the most prominent of these installations within the pavilion was a bronze sculpture titled "Eve's Shame" by famous Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinčić. The work depicts the Biblical "Eve" hiding herself after God reveals to her that she is naked. This is one of the many bronze casts that Augustinčić created of this work, however, he first sculpted it from marble in 1953 on the porch of Tito's White Villa on the Brijuni Islands, which leads to this work also sometimes being referred to as the "Brijuni Nude". Several of these bronze versions of Eve's Shame currently exist at art museums across the former Yugoslav region (such as at Belgrade and Sarajevo), so, it is not clear which of these was the one exhibited at the Expo in Montreal. A second notable sculpture on display within the pavilion was a work by Zagreb sculptor Vojin Bakić [profile page] from his series of stainless steel works titled "Luminous Forms/Svjetlosni oblici". This work consisted of a interconnected series of polished concave metal discs which formed an abstract self-standing object that playfully warped and reflected the room's surrounding light. Bakić's works in his "Luminous Forms" series are all very similar, so it is difficult to determine without better quality photos which was the one that appeared here at the pavilion. In addition, another sculptural work presented among these other two was a marble sculpture titled "The Highlander's Mother" by Dubrovnik artist Marijan Kocković [profile page]. This work depicted a Dinaric woman wearing a traditional costume and posed in a sitting position with her knees up. Kocković had a number of smaller sculptures on presentation here at the Yugoslav pavilion, many of which were sold to local art dealers in Montreal after the exhibition. It is possible that this work seen here was among those sold.

A view of the interior of the Yugoslav pavilion identifying a number of sculptures on exhibit.

Meanwhile, one last specific piece of artwork to mention that was on display within the pavilion was a famous kinetic sculptural piece called "Relief Meter", created in 1967 by architect Vjenceslav Richter, who was the runner-up to the Yugoslav pavilion design competition and who was subsequently appointed as the head of interior design for Miroslav Pešić's winning architectural concept. This interactive sculpture composed of 10,000 movable aluminum segments set within a square frame which could be manipulated by the viewer to create a limitless variation of undulating and rhythmic configurations. The work was was displayed as a central piece of art within the pavilion's exhibition.

A view of the "Relief Meter" sculpture by Vjenceslav Richter inside the pavilion. Credit: AP archive

Finally, in addition to the previously mentioned sculptural and artistic works, many others were presented here. Sources indicate that well over 100 canvases of contemporary art were presented within the pavilion but, unfortunately, I was unable to find any documentation of the exhibition's full artistic catalog. The modern works that I was able to positively identify showing at the pavilion's the exhibition were ones I was simply able to identify myself from video and photographic records. If anyone reading this knows of or has access to a more comprehensive catalog of the works shown here, please contact me!

 

From Yugoslav Pavilion to Seaman's Museum

Upon creating their pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo, Yugoslavia had the intention from the start that they would sell off the remaining structure (along with its rights and responsibilities) after the Expo's conclusion. The impetus behind the desire to off-load the pavilion was to avoid the costs of shipping it back to Yugoslavia and to avoid incurring the costs of dismantling the structure (as the managing authorities of the Expo required that all pavilion sites be left exactly in the state as they were found). In fact, the government of Yugoslavia made a deal before the Expo even started that the structure would be sold to a local Montreal resident Anton Bebek for 30,000 Canadian dollars, with Bebek immediately then selling it to Toronto businessman H. Herbstein. However, managing authorities of the Expo proceeded to inform Yugoslavia that this deal did not relieve the the country of the financial responsibilities of dismantling the pavilion and cleaning the site. In response to this reminder, Bebek and Herbstein asserted they did not have the capital necessary for the pavilion's deconstruction. With the Yugoslav pavilion's future in question as the Expo was coming to an end, Herbstein made a connection with the Government of the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador, particularly the province's assembly member T. Alex Hickman and Newfoundland Premier Joseph Smallwood. Hickman and Smallwood had both seen the Yugoslav pavilion during the Expo and they greatly appreciated its form, as it reminded them of the sails of a schooner and, as such, were interested in acquiring the structure for their island. A deal was struck between all parties where Yugoslavia would cancel the contract with Herbstein if his purchase costs were reimbursed by the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador, at which point Yugoslavia would then sell the pavilion to the province for a token sum of one dollar on the condition the province would cover all costs of dismantling, site prep and shipment of the structure. After the province acquired the pavilion, Hickman, a native of the coastal town of Grand Bank, Newfoundland, championed the idea that it be directed to his hometown, where it could be established as a maritime museum.

The 1971 grand opening of the Seamen's Museum at Grand Bank Newfoundland. Credit: Provincial Seamen's Museum@Facebook

In 1968, the year after the Expo's conclusion, efforts began towards dismantling the Yugoslav pavilion and the lengthy task of shipping it firstly by boat to the port of Botwood, Newfoundland, then over roadway to the town of Grand Bank. Upon the pieces of the pavilion arriving at Grand Bank, the structure was laboriously reassembled between 1968 and 1971 on the eastern limits of Grand Bank overlooking Fortune Bay, with the exterior of the complex constructed in nearly the exact same fashion as it had appeared at the Montreal Expo. Sources relate that the cost of this museum project in Grand Bank cost the province roughly one million Canadian dollars. The brand new provincial maritime museum complex had its grand opening on September 1st, 1971 during a lavish ceremony which was attended by over 1,000 people. Originally called the "Southern Newfoundland Fishermen's Center", the name of the institution was later changed to the "Seaman's Museum". In news articles announcing the opening of the museum, local news writers were so proud of it that they grandiosely exclaimed that it was "one of the most attractive buildings anywhere in Newfoundland, Canada or even all North America". The new museum was extremely popular with the local population and became instant symbol for Grand Bank, as well as the Burin Peninsula and the surrounding region. It existed not only as a museum dedicated to the Newfoundland's rich maritime history, but it also operated as a memorial to the many fishermen of the region who perished at sea over the years. For the community of Grand Bank, the abstract white triangles of the new museum's architecture came to represent the billowing white sails of the maritime vessels that are so important to the culture and history of Newfoundland.

A contemporary view of the Seamen's Museum at Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Credit: Dave R@GoogleMaps
A view of the interior of the Seamen's Museum at Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Credit: Provincial Seamen's Museum@Facebook
A view of th