Saturday, July 12, 2014

Montreal's Canadian Expo 67, a Souvenir Medallion Necklace, and John Norman Collins

Remembered as a source of Canadian national pride, the Montreal Exposition 67 was Canada's first world's fair. It also marked its centennial year as a confederation. The exposition's motto was "Man and His World/Terre Des Hommes." Expo 67 became known as one of the most successful world's fairs of the twentieth century but not without overcoming many obstacles.

First, the Soviets were awarded the fair by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIA) on May 5, 1960. The Cold War was heating up and Moscow cited financial and security concerns, bowing out as the host country in April 1962. Six months later on November 13, the BIA changed the location of the World Exhibition to Canada. Despite an Ottawa government report showing the likely failure of such a project, Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau convinced lawmakers that it was possible to prepare for the expo and have its grounds ready for the scheduled opening day.

It was Drapeau's idea to create two new islands in the St. Lawrence River and enlarge the existing Ile Sainte-Helene. The result would prevent wholesale land speculation which could rock the Montreal economy if the exposition was built on the northern reaches of the city as others had advised. The mayor's plan seemed far fetched at first, but it started to make more sense the closer Canadian ministers took a look at it. 

United States Pavilion - Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome.
Montreal was already in the midst of a huge public works project, the expansion of their Metro system. The rubble and excavations from that project would become back fill for the man-made islands. The first batch of twenty-five million cubic tons needed to create the islands was ceremoniously dropped on August 13, 1963.

Working around the clock, a legion of dump truck drivers and heavy equipment operators finished the job on time. The newly graded grounds were turned over to the Expo 67 Corporation by the City of Montreal on June 20, 1964. This left 1,042 days to have everything else built and functioning by opening day on April 27, 1967.

Expo 67 was politically and culturally seen as a landmark moment in Canadian history. In the six months it was open, the official attendance tally was 50,306,648 despite a thirty day transit strike in September. The exposition set the single-day attendance record for a world's fair of 569,500 visitors on its third day.

The Canadian Exposition was projected to have a deficit shared by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, but the exposition performed better financially than expected. In 1967 Canadian dollars, Expo 67 took in revenues of $221,239,872 with costs of $431,904,683. That left a deficit of $210,664,811 for the Canadian taxpayers to pick up. In return, Montreal got some new public land and improved infrastructure, and Canada received unprecedented global media exposure, a boost in international prestige, and a feeling of national pride for a job well-done.


Nineteen year old Mary Terese Fleszar convinced her parents to allow her to drive the family station wagon to the Montreal Expo 67 with her sister and two friends. Mary had planned out the trip in great detail. She knew how far Montreal was from Willis, Michigan, how much gasoline it would take to get there, and all the costs they might likely incur. Her mother and father had confidence in Mary's judgement and wished the girls well as they left on Thursday, June 1. Mary had even planned to beat the weekend traffic.

While on their visit, Mary purchased an Expo 67 medallion necklace with the logo of the exposition on it. The logo for the exposition was designed by Montreal artist Julien Hebert. The basic unit of the design was a pictogram of two "ancient men" linked together in friendship. This basic icon is repeated in a circular fashion eight times representing "friendship around the world."

If the viewer looks carefully at the symbol to the right, an M for Montreal can be seen in each icon. The rest of the icon looks like a W, perhaps representing the World. The fair's logo did not enjoy unanimous support from Canadians who felt it was too vague and cryptic. The design didn't include the name of the event or any reference to Canada or Montreal. But a nationwide contest was held by a group of Canadian intellectuals, and they choose Hebert's design.

After Mary Fleszar's return from her successful excursion to Canada, she sublet an apartment in Ypsilanti to be near her job at Eastern Michigan University. At about 9:00 PM on July 9th, Mary was last seen taking an evening walk by two people sitting on their front porch. The man and woman reported to police that she had been harassed twice on Ballard St. by someone driving a blue-grey Chevy. She waved the guy off a second time and then turned the corner on Washtenaw Ave leading to her apartment building. She was never seen alive again.

Mary's family believes she was abducted from the parking lot in front of her apartment building. One month later, her body was found by two teenagers among the weeds near the barn of an abandoned farm on Geddes Rd, one-third of a mile from LeForge Rd.

Early in the investigation, police asked Mrs. Fleszar to take an inventory of Mary's things to see if anything was missing from her apartment. Mary's purse and wallet were there, but her keys were missing and her light-blue Comet automobile was parked across the lot from Mary's assigned spot. Mrs. Fleszar thought that was very odd.

Mr. Fleszar removed the ignition switch for evidence before selling the car in case a set of matching keys was ever recovered. The front door lock to Mary's apartment was also removed and turned over to police as potential evidence for the same reason.

In addition to her keys, there was one other missing item. The Montreal Expo 67 medallion necklace Mary had purchased at the fair a month earlier. It was conspicuous by its absence. As a piece of jewelry, it had no value beyond a keepsake souvenir.

Two years later, after John Norman Collins was arrested for the sex-slaying of Karen Sue Beineman on July 31, 1969, Michigan State Police had probable cause to obtain a bench warrant to search his room. Found on top of his dresser was an Expo 67 medallion necklace that was entered as evidence with about one hundred other items collected by police from Collins' room and Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Items not directly related to the Beineman case were returned to the Collins family. The only item they refused to accept on John's instructions was the Expo 67 medallion. Collins denied owning or having any knowledge of the medallion and accused the police of planting it as evidence against him. The necklace was placed in an envelope and stored in an evidence vault in East Lansing, Michigan where it presumably lies today.

For more information about Expo 67, check out the following link: