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Before Expo 86, Vancouver 'didn't have the same kind of vitality': Jim Pattison

Last Updated May 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm PST

(John Streit, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Jim Pattison, president and CEO of Expo 86, says getting the land for the event was a big challenge

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Today marks the 30th anniversary of Expo 86, an event that helped put Vancouver on the map.

It was also known as The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication. It brought 22 million people to Vancouver by the time it wrapped up in October.

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Jim Pattison was the president and CEO of Expo. He says before the event, the city didn’t have as much traffic or as many people. “We didn’t have the same kind of vitality that we have in the city today.”

“Of course, it wasn’t nearly as cosmopolitan as today. Our part of the world wasn’t doing that well and so, the premier decided to stimulate the economy and he certainly made a good step forward in doing what he did.”

When he was appointed to the Order of BC, the award noted Pattison was the “expeditor” of Expo. But he insists the whole event was the premier’s vision — not his.

“My job was just to help get it done. Me and a lot of other people, [our job was] to get what the premier wanted to accomplish.”

But pulling the event off didn’t happen without a few challenges.

“The first one was to get the land; that was a big project. After that, we had to decide what the public wanted and where they were going to come from and how we were going to get them here. And what was going to make it different for people that wanted to come.”

When asked about any regrets, Pattison says there are none that come to mind.

“I’m sure there is, but I can’t recall it. When you do something for the first time, you usually make a lot of mistakes — and I made all of those, but not enough to cause a problem. We did better than we expected. We budgeted for 14 million people and we wound up with 22 million. So, that part worked out okay.”

Pattison was also involved with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He says the two events, while both international, were quite different.

“The Olympics was a totally different proposition. The Olympics was a worldwide project. it was a major television event. It was a worldwide event and that, of course, helps Vancouver too to have that kind of exposure. Whereas, [Expo 86], a lot of people came to it — a lot of people in British Columbia, California, and western Canada.”

He says when the premier put on the fair, he realized BC’s economy and employment needed a boost. “I think it helped us get more confidence in ourselves and I think it certainly gave the people the sense of pride that we could accomplish something that turned out to be better than we’d anticipated.”

LISTEN: Jim Pattison on NEWS 1130, looking back at Expo 86