International Specialised Expo

02/05/1986 - 13/10/1986

Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch

Official Designation
The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation

Area (ha)




In 1986, Vancouver’s Centennial was celebrated through an International Specialised Expo with the theme “Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch”. Recognised by the 88th session of the General Assembly of the BIE on 26 November 1980, the Expo was officially opened on 2 May 1986 by the Prince and the Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana. It was the third Expo to take place in the Pacific Northwest, and North America’s last Expo of the 20th century. The 70 ha site attracted over 22 million visitors, of which over half came from the United States.

The Expo

The site stretched 4.5km along the north and east shoreline of False Creek and was divided into six colour-coded zones, with each zone featuring international and provincial pavilions as well as restaurants and theatres. There were a total of 65 pavilions, of which 41 were international, as well as three foreign plazas for the US, Europe and ASEAN countries.

BC Place, which spanned 4.5 ha and remains to this day, was located at the centre of the site and included the Plaza of Nations, where special and national day celebrations were held. The site also featured three plazas focused on land, air and water transport, which were buzzing with constantly changing displays of vehicles, aircraft and vessels.

In addition to the general public, the Expo also appealed to specialists via a range of seminars, events and activities that took place during 14 specialized periods, each lasting up to two weeks. Seminar topics varied from polar transportation to underwater resources, and from alternative fuel to power systems.

World in Motion

The Expo’s transportation theme was clearly visible via the 5.4km monorail, two gondola Skyrides, and the city’s newly built SkyTrain system, with all on-site transport being free to use. The monorail connected different zones of the site while the SkyTrain allowed visitors to travel between the main site and the 10,800m2 Canada Pavilion, which was located across town in the city’s harbour.

Steam and sailing boats were on show in the harbour, while there was also a fly-by of DC-3 aircraft and special activities for steam locomotives. International participants joined in too - Japan displayed a prototype of its magnetic levitation train and the German Pavilion featured a bus capable on running on both diesel and electricity. The Soulé SK people-mover system and a full-sized TGV train replica were put on display by France, which also brought in a reproduction of the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon for the French national day.

Space rivalry

Expo 1986 was the first World Expo in which the US, the Soviet Union and China all participated, with space travel proving to be a key point of communication for these major powers.

The Soviet pavilion, which covered 2,500m2 in the centre of the site, celebrated the 25th anniversary of manned space flight with a 15-metre-high statue of Yuri A. Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth. Visitors were able to walk through a 33-metre replica of a Soviet space station and see a working laboratory.

The US pavilion treated visitors to a space travel experience including a gallery of American space pioneers as well as their equipment and models of their spacecraft, including the Columbia space shuttle.

The Chinese pavilion at the eastern end of the fairground, distinguished by a painted arch modeled after a gate at Peking's Summer Palace, also displayed space rocket models as well as communications satellites.


The Expo’s focus on transport had a long-lasting impact on Vancouver – Expo-related developments include the SkyTrain rapid transit system and the cable-stayed Alex Fraser Bridge over the Fraser River, which was the longest bridge of its kind when it opened. The Canada Pavilion was transformed into Vancouver’s new marina, with the iconic white sails remaining in place and becoming one of the city’s hallmarks.

The BC Place stadium, which was built for the Expo, remains one of the city’s major multi-purpose venues, having also been used for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics which were held in Vancouver in 2010. One of the thematic pavilions, a renovated 100-year-old railway roundhouse which featured an exhibit on “The Golden Age of Ingenuity” in transportation, is now an arts-focused community centre, while the dome-shaped Expo Centre reopened as Science World in 1990.