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

Updated: Mar 25

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 the interior of the Seamen's Museum at Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Credit: Mike Mahoney

Over the decades, the Seamen's Museum has continued to operate as a cherished and honored cultural institution within the town of Grand Bank, as well as within the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. In 2000, a large mural was painted on the northeast side of the museum by Grand Bank local artists Jim Myles & Boyd Halloway. Deemed to be the largest painted mural on Canada's Atlantic coast, the mural depicts traditional maritime life in Grand Bank, showing dockworkers, the town's historic lighthouse, and a large fishing sailboat coming into port. Finally, with 2021 being the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the museum, efforts are in store to honor the institution, as well as to mark and highlight its origin as the Yugoslav pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo. Even to this day, many visitors to the museum have trouble believing that the museum was originally an Expo pavilion for Yugoslavia nor that it originated a world away from Newfoundland, created by Yugoslav artists and architects.


As an interesting side note, much of the history of the post-Expo fate of the Yugoslav pavilion that I convey in this article was uncovered by Belgrade researcher Mladen Pešić his 2018 paper that delves deep into the Belgrade archives in uncovering information about the site. However, when Ljubljana academic writer Lara Slivnik wrote her brief 2015 paper about the pavilion, her research was at that point still unclear about the exact circumstances in which the Yugoslav pavilion came to be in Grand Bank. In that paper, she recounts that she had heard two stories about how the Yugoslav pavilion had come to Grand Bank. The first of these stories she relates bears close resemblance to the documented history uncovered by Pešić. Yet, in addition, Slivnik also recounts a second story she had heard in which the dismantled Yugoslav pavilion is being shipped by boat back to Belgrade but hits rough storms off of the coast of Newfoundland, at which point a Grand Bank fisherman helps the distressed ship back to shore. The story then relates how, as a token of gratitude, Yugoslavia donates the pavilion to Grand Bank. In my discussions with the current curator of the Seamen's Museum at Grand Bank, Steven Barnes, in regards to this second story that Slivnik relates, Barnes believes that it is simply a confusion and mis-telling of the tale about the Czechoslovak pavilion, a builidng which also made its way to Newfoundland after the Expo in Montreal.

A vintage photo showing the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal.

On September 5th, 1967, during the final days of the World Expo in Montreal, Czechoslovak State Airlines Flight 523 made a stop-over at Gander Airport in Newfoundland on its way between Prague and Havana, Cuba. During this era, Gander was a frequent re-fueling stop for trans-Atlantic airlines, so this stop-over was not unusual. However, upon take off of Flight 523 from Gander that day, the plane mysteriously failed to gain sufficient altitude during take off, at which point it struck an antenna's guy wire and crashed into a railroad embankment just over 1,000m from the end of the runway it had just taken off from. The government authorities of Newfoundland extended every resource available in the rescue efforts and disaster relief in the wake of the plane's crash, with 34 of the plane's passengers being saved from the wreck as the result of this quick coordination. In fact, Newfoundland's government, under the efforts of Premier Joseph Smallwood, was already making overtures signaling their desire to purchase the Czechoslovakia's Expo pavilion before the air accident at Gander even occurred, however, sources relate that Newfoundland was initially very low on the list among the many potential buyers competing for it. However, after the crash at Gander and Newfoundland's exceptional response, Czechoslovakia put Newfoundland at the top of the list for pavilion's acquisition. The province subsequently purchased the pavilion from Czechoslovakia after the Expo's conclusion for the price of roughly 230,000 Canadian dollars.

A view of the crash of Czechoslovak State Airlines Flight 523 in Gander. Credit: CBC.ca
A contemporary view of the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. Credit: Pat Braden

Today, the remains of the Czechoslovak pavilion, designed by the architect team Miroslav Repa & Vladimir Pycha, are used as part of two separate institutions in Newfoundland. The main part of the pavilion was used to create the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. Meanwhile, other components of the pavilion were also used to create the Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre in Gander.

The Yugoslav Pavilion's Legacy

The pavilion which Yugoslavia built here at Montreal, designed by Miroslav Pešić, did not receive quite the same level of applaud and praise from the international architecture community as did the pavilion which was built by Vjenceslav Richter for the 1958 Expo in Brussels. In fact, Lara Slivnik notes in a 2015 paper that the 1967 Yugoslav pavilion at Montreal was barely even mentioned at all in international architectural reviews of the Expo. When compared to the wellspring of bold architectural solutions put forward by nations from around the world during the 1967 Expo (such as those by the USSR, Canada, France, the USA, among others), Yugoslav had significant trouble competing. Slivnik further goes on in her paper to quote the famous Serbian architect Ranko Radović in conveying a sample of domestic feelings towards the pavilion:

"In Montreal, the Yugoslav pavilion was received well. If the whole project had been started earlier, with more money and public support, the overall effect could have been better. It seems that we cannot overcome ourselves and that for decades we will participate at such events as a nation of impulse and inspiration, but always awaken only in the very last moment."

However, despite the Yugoslav pavilion being among tough competition in the realm of architecture, it proved to be immensely successful in other ways. Mladen Pešić relates in his 2018 paper that during the six months of the Expo, more good things were written about and said in regards to Yugoslavia than in all the decades prior. The Yugoslav pavilion's hospitality was well remarked, while its cultural and artistic offerings were highly praised.


Through the Yugoslav pavilion at the Montreal Expo may have not been given the attention by western architectural critics that some in Yugoslavia may have hoped for, the pavilions design most certainly did not go unnoticed in other realms. In 1974, just seven years after the Expo, a large motor lodge named "Eurocamp FICC" opened up in the resort town of Tatranská Lomnica, Czechoslovakia which unquestionably was architecturally inspired by Pešić's Yugoslav pavilion concept. The lodging complex, created by Slovak architect Eugen Kramár, consisted of dozens of white prism-shaped structures alternating back and forth in their orientation, all in a dramatic setting overlooking the immense Tatras Mountains. Located just south of the town of Tatranská Lomnica (at these coordinates), the complex was sadly demolished in the early 2010s, with only ruins of the site now remaining.

As for the architect Miroslav Pešić, it would seem at first that being commissioned to create the Yugoslav pavilion for the 1967 World Expo at Montreal would instantly propel Pešić into a life of fame a notoriety, in reality, the architectural career of Pešić largely vanishes after the completion of the Expo. In research done by myself, as well as that cited by Lara Slivnik in her 2015 paper, the name of "Miroslav Pešić" as an architect in Yugoslavia is completely absent from any records after the completion of the Expo. Whether it was the controversial nature of the pavilion's competition, or the poor way in which the structure was received by both domestic and international circles, or perhaps something completely unrelated, Pešić disengages in participating in major architectural projects in Yugoslavia after 1967. On the other hand, the other major player in this story, Vjenceslav Richter, continued very prolifically in his professional work after 1967 both as an architect and sculptor. The next time that Yugoslavia would have a national architecture competition for a pavilion would be in 1990 for the upcoming 1992 World Expo in Seville, Spain. Richter, 73 years old at this point, would again submit a proposal for this competition, but only come in 3rd place.


As far as how the legacy of the Yugoslav pavilion has reached into contemporary culture in the present-day successor states, it is historical episode that isn't widely remember or recognized, while only being written about a small amount in the region's academic community. The researchers Lara Slivnik and Mladen Pešić were the only academic writers I found who significantly explored the pavilion. Even fewer people in the former Yugoslav region are aware that this pavilion still exists and continues to operate as a maritime museum in Newfoundland, Canada.

A photo of the Monument to Salvador Allende at the former site of the Yugoslav pavilion. Credit: Siris@Wikipedia

Today, the former site of the Yugoslav pavilion on Île Notre-Dame in Montreal (presently part of Jean-Drapeau Park), is occupied by a monument titled "L'Arc", which is dedicated to Chile's former leader Salvador Allende. Created by Montreal artist Michel de Broin, the monument consists of a tree-shaped sculpture arching and penetrating into the ground. It was unveiled on September 11th, 2009 on the 36th anniversary of Allende's death after a coup d'état by General Augusto Pinochet. The exact location for this site is 45°30'21.0"N, 73°31'39.8"W.

The Pavilions of the 1967 Montreal World Expo

As so much of this article discusses the architecture of the pavilions which was on display at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, I felt that it might be appropricate to show a collage image of some of the most significant and celebrated pavilion designs seen at the Expo. Hopefully, seeing this array of diverse and magnificient pavilions will grant greater context and understanding to the architectural atmosphere in which the Yugoslav pavilion went on display for the world. Keep in mind though that the Expo featured over 90 pavilions from a myriad of nations, states, provinces, companies and industries, so, this is only a small sampling of what was seen and encountered by the visitors to the Expo all the way back during the summer of 1967.

A collage of historic images from the 1967 World Expo at Montreal showing the various pavilions on display there.

Sources & More Information

-World Fair's Info article: "Yougoslavie"

-Lara Slivnik paper: "Yugoslavia at the Montreal Expo 67: The Architectural Competition and the Pavilion"

-Mladen G. Pešić paper: "ИЗЛОЖБЕНЕ ПРАКСЕ АРХИТЕКТУРЕ У ЈУГОСЛАВИЈИ И ЈУГОСЛОВЕНСКИ КУЛТУРНИ ПРОСТОР ОД 1945. ДО 1991."

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