Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CBC Canada 2017: Maintaining a 60 Year Friendship

How do you maintain a 50-year friendship? 6 pro tips from Expo 67 staffers

'Support the supreme organizer' — and other keys to a lasting bond

The former staff of Expo 67's Ontario Pavillion have been friends for five decades — and counting. They share some secrets with Canada 150 staff and volunteers. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)
When Alena Schram looks at the friends she's known for 50 years, she still sees them as they were in the summer of 1967.
Schram was among an elite group of young men and women hired to run the Ontario Pavillion at Expo 67 — the marquee event of Canada's centennial year.
She and her fellow hosts and hostesses recently reunited in Toronto, celebrating their 50th anniversary on another big year for the country. The tight-knit group of friends are now in their 70s.
"I still see their '67 faces, and I sort of put up with their current ones," says Schram with a laugh.

The 'Dos and Don'ts' of keeping in touch

If Schram is any indication, good humour is one key to lasting affection.
But how else does one maintain a multi-person, multi-decade friendship? Despite long distances, busy schedules and diverging career paths, her group has found a way to hold four major reunions and several smaller get-togethers over the years.

As a new generation of Canada 150 staff and volunteers bond across the country, we've fashioned some friendly advice from Schram, and some of her peers, into a short list of dos and don'ts.

1. Do appreciate your moment in history.

Several Expo 67 buildings, like the geodesic dome that housed the United States Pavilion, remain key features of the modern Montreal landscape. (Library and Archives Canada)
Dubbed Montreal's world fair, Expo 67 attracted more than 50 million visitors, including the Queen and several global celebrities, from over 60 countries. Spectacular visions of the future were featured in dozens of national and international pavilions — including the Ontario Pavilion, where Schram and her peers worked.
"We understood that we were in a special place at a special time," says the retired teacher, ambassadorial spouse and author.
"It was different than other Canadian anniversaries in that the world came to our shores that year," adds Gary J. Smith, who went on to become Canada's ambassador to Indonesia.
"The international nature of it fused us together."

2. Do figure out what makes you special as a group — and as individuals.  

'Fifty of us were chosen from 2,000 applications. We were interviewed twice. We all spoke a second language, and some a third. This alone put us in a rarefied group for the 1960s.' Alena Schram. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)
The Ontario Pavillion hosts and hostesses were hand-picked from thousands of applicants.
The result? A group of high achievers who shared many beliefs and values. The great foundation, says Schram, was that they all felt they were part of something truly great for Canada.
"Many of our professions reflected that concept: judges, diplomats, senior civil servants," she says, adding that the group also produced artists, CEOs, lawyers and a film producer.
"I think one of our strengths is that we were equal numbers of men and women," adds Eva Innes, who went on to become president of her own consulting firm.
Notably, the men and the women in the group were paid equally. "This was a cutting edge approach in 1967!" says Schram.
And at the individual level, everyone played a role — from cheerleader to naysayer to "ideas person" to "sounding board."
Over the years, many have confessed that they once thought they were the "surprise," the "outlier" or the "odd man out." As it turns out, each person in the group brought something unique to the bond and dynamic.

3. Don't leave it all to one lead organizer.

Lucky groups have at least one person with enviable organizational skills. For the Ontario Pavillion, that person is Laird Saunderson, former right hand to Ontario premier Bill Davis.
Laird Saunderson, second from the left, has been dubbed the supreme organizer of the group. Here she, Eva Innes and Bridgit Neidre pose with late MPP John Yaremko. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)
Saunderson calls the group "a source of support and comfort over the years." She, in turn, has been making calls, sending emails and otherwise corralling her friends for decades.
But every friend group should bear in mind that no one person, not even the extremely competent, is all mighty.
"Support the supreme organizer," says Schram, noting that Saunderson has needed the backing of co-chairs, Eva Innes and Jocelyne Côté-O'Hara, and a little team to get their group together over the years.

4. Don't over-reunite.

Schram has heard that some groups try to meet annually to mixed results. She advises small gatherings as often as convenient and bigger events with the whole group every five to 10 years.
"These events are better held infrequently," she notes, adding that the rarity motivates those who have to travel long distances.
"It's surprising how meaningful such reunions can be."
John MacNaughton, Dorinda Brunst and Terry Tyers, seen here at the group's 45th anniversary, showed up in their Expo 67 uniforms. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

5. Do take on new projects.

Although the group enjoys getting nostalgic, they've also taken on new projects hinged on their shared values.
For instance, since their youth, they've believed in the importance of learning French. Schram says this was "unusual amongst Ontarians" in 1967.
In 2002, some members set up the Ontario 67 Scholarship at Glendon College, York University's bilingual campus. Since then, they've helped several Québécois students pay for their studies in Ontario. 
"We have such wonderful memories of those days we experienced firsthand and of the fair's phenomenal success," Smith, a Glendon alumnus, said at the time. "This is our way of saying 'thank you.'"

6. Don't take your friendships for granted.

The gang recently reunited in Toronto. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)
Keep in touch. It's a hopeful statement after a shared experience — one more often expressed than honoured. With Canada 150 volunteers and staff in mind, Schram warns: "Make sure you don't take your friendships for granted."
Her group's reunions have been getting smaller over the years. On the final pages of their 50th anniversary memory book, twelve names are neatly printed in memoriam.
"I don't know who the last man standing will be. Probably a woman — still organizing!" says Schram with a wistful laugh.
It's a fact of life and friendship, one that should remind us that all shared time is precious.
Looking back, Schram is proud of her peers and five decades of keeping in touch. 
"I think we all turned out better than we thought we would," she says.
Here's hoping bonds formed in 2017 are as durable as this special centennial friendship. (Ontario Pavillion Staff Expo 67)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Dark Underbelly of Being a Hostess at Expo 67 (from the Kingston Whig Standard 15 June 17)

“Come a little closer….” he whispered urgently in my ear.  “A little more….”

I was shaken.  A respected familiar public figure, now leering at me as we sat side by side in the theatre.  Was nothing sacred?

But this was 1967, decades before such apparent behaviour was labelled inappropriate, and so I simply squirmed and smiled more brightly than ever, anxious not to give offence.

Then, with deep frustration in his voice, he said, “I’m really hard of hearing.”

Whew!  I thought, and immediately re-hoisted Jack Benny on his pedestal.

The iconic comedian had come to Montreal along with the whole world that summer, to visit Expo 67.  And I was the Ontario Pavilion hostess assigned to accompany him and the still super-elegant singer-entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, as they watched our Oscar-winning film, “A Place to Stand”.

With Benny on one side and Chevalier on the other, I sat star-struck while the multi-screen scenes unfolded dazzlingly in every direction. The following afternoon a column captioned “Mother Will Never Believe This”, appeared in a newspaper, alongside a dewy photo of me.  A small but irresistible taste of fame set in……

Those were truly halcyon days for the 50 young men and women that made up the pavilion hosting staff.  In those six months from April to October, we squired the famous, hosted all-pavilion parties that put Ontario’s name up in lights, and watched as millions descended on tiny reclaimed Ile Ste Helene.

In preparation for this once in a lifetime job, we’d memorized detailed facts and figures about Ontario.  We needn’t have bothered. No one ever asked us anything more consequential than: “Where’s the bathroom?”  “What time’s the restaurant open?” “When’s the next movie showing?” and “Where’s the Stanley Cup, the Coupe Stanley?” The Cup, won by the Leafs that year, was displayed in a bulletproof case, an OPP officer proudly and perpetually by its side.

To relieve our resulting boredom, we would often stand stock still, frozen, with our eyes fixed, our mouths agape and our arms unnaturally outstretched, until some baffled visitor would inch closer and lay a timid finger on an arm or a hand.  Then we’d suddenly spring to life, to great shock and amusement.  It definitely helped to pass the time.

We hostesses were kitted out in natty khaki and white uniforms – white gloves (the only part of my outfit I can still slip into) forever covering our hands -- with toupee hats made of some ghastly synthetic material.  Those white domes, which trapped heat and humidity and left our Jackie Kennedy bouffant hairdos wet and straggly, turned out to be the perfect camouflage for brush hair-rollers.  By wrapping hanks of hair around five or six of these prickly little beautifying rods, and securing them with pink plastic sticks, we could – with a bit of brushing and a lot of teasing – appear presentable at the end of our shifts.  There was always a party somewhere and we were always invited.

Along with the hats, we were issued high-heeled shoes made of Corfam, a new man-made material that had two shortcomings:  it didn’t breathe; and it crippled.  After an hour or two on our feet we all hobbled to a standstill.  Leather replacements were soon found.

The white go-go boots we wore in rainy weather were no better.  Equally air tight, they gathered moisture, etc.  It was the etc. that was immediately and pungently noticeable if one of the hostesses took her boots off in a confined space.

Before Expo actually opened, we were given basic beauty lessons by Eleanor Fulcher, owner of the eponymous Toronto modelling agency.  She encouraged us to be bright-eyed at all times, a look she insisted would be enhanced by false eyelashes.   

I apparently was the only one that believed her and was accordingly known all summer long for the distracting pair of tarantulas that flapped untethered on my eyelids.  I was never without them.  I would apply them at the start of each week, and for the next five days would simply stub them down whenever they threatened to escape. Peeling them off and re-installing them was a major undertaking involving glue and a steady hand.  Getting them on straight – especially on the clacking Montreal-Toronto train – was particularly hazardous.  But the eyelashes made quite an impact, and defined me in a not-altogether-flattering way.

Each of us spoke several languages – more or less – but apart from the Franco-Ontarians among us, fluent French was not generally one of them.  Products of Ontario secondary school language classes, we did our best to muddle through, and fortunately no comments were made nor incidents kindled, though several harmless and humorous misunderstandings resulted.

It was the best of times and……well…...the super-best of times.  As one of our hosts later wrote: we had the pre-eminent jobs in Canada that year and were part of the luckiest generation on earth.  We were on the cusp of life, ready to launch at the end of an enchanting summer.  Our opportunities seemed limitless. 

I still boast about that magical period in my life.  But over the years I’ve noticed my audience’s eyes start to glaze over.  Somewhere along the line, listeners started to say in wonderment, “My parents took me to Expo in a stroller!”   About five years ago I met a young man who told me his mother was taken there in a stroller!

I guess that’s possible.  It’s been fifty years after all.  Hard to believe.

Alena Schram is the author of The Opinionated Old Cow:  Ruminations from the Field.  She lives on Amherst Island near Kingston with her husband, John, a retired Canadian diplomat.  Her white Expo gloves have been useful in cleaning out bird cages and in rubbing shoulders with royalty at three Buckingham Palace Garden Parties.  They may be viewed by appointment.