Throughout the 1960s, former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau made countless efforts to put his beloved city on the map. This included securing the 1976 Olympics, developing Montreal’s subway system, securing an MLB franchise and, of course, the World’s Fair.
Better known by its nickname Expo 67, the 1967 World’s Fair in many ways made Montreal a household name. The six-month event cost Canada, Quebec and Montreal $283 million. But it could have cost a lot more if one of Drapeau’s ideas hadn’t failed.
Believe it or not, before the Expo started, Mayor Drapeau and then French President Charles de Gaulle intended to transport the Eiffel Tower from Paris to Montreal.
Yes, this Eiffel Tower.
According to a 1980 report by The Montreal Gazette, talks between the French capital and Montreal laid the groundwork for a plan to build a new giant concrete tower in Montreal. But when the costs proved too high, the project was scrapped and replaced with an even more eccentric idea.
Upon learning that there would be no “Montreal Tower” in time for Expo 67, someone from the mayor’s office suggested simply borrowing the Eiffel Tower from France. This way, Montreal would still have a monument to show in time for the exhibition. While the idea was presented as a joke, Drapeau would give serious thought to the logistics of transporting the tower from the Champ de Mars.
Plans advanced far enough that De Gaulle also seriously considered moving after studies determined the feasibility of dismantling and transporting the steel tower. There were even plans to place a sign in its original location stating that it would return once the Expo was over in October of that year.
Historian Jean-François Nadeau told Radio-Canada that even though the idea was floated, and even though Drapeau’s office sent a formal request to the president, it was never seriously considered by the French.
“The French administration ended up responding, in a very diplomatic way, but with a bit of a joke: ‘Of course, we’ll lend it to you, if you can guarantee that you’ll keep all of the 60 tons of paint, the 18,038 of the pieces of metal, the 2.5 million rivets, that you bring it to us and put it back as it is.
Eventually, after months of speculation and discussion, the Société de la Tour Eiffel concluded that the risk of irreparable damage to the monument was too great. As a result, the old Iron Lady remained where she was.
And the Montreal festivities, despite his absence, went well.