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Then and Now: 30 years of Expo

Expo 86

It was 30 years ago…

May 2nd marks the 30th anniversary of Expo ’86 – the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication held on the north shore of False Creek. North America’s largest World’s Fair was a monumental event for Vancouver that left a lasting legacy, notably, Metro Vancouver’s first Rapid Transit SkyTrain – the Expo Line, built for and named in anticipation of the fair. SkyTrain debuted as the first and one of the longest, fully-automated, driverless, rapid transit systems in the world

“Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch” coincided with Vancouver’s centennial celebration and was opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

expo prince and princess

Prince Charles and Princess Diana riding the Expo Line in 1986


Charles and Di

The Royal Couple

A lot has changed in 30 years, and we’ve summarized some fun facts below about SkyTrain, Metro Vancouver, and BC in general.

  1986 2016
Main line track (km) 21 58
Stations 15 33
Annual boardings (millions) 20 (1987) 80
Fleet (cars) 114 258 (+28 by mid-2016)
One-zone cash fare (at Jan 1) $1.15 $2.75
Metro Vancouver population 1.38 million (census) 2.54 million (BC Stats projection)
Detached home price $130,800 $1,816,487
Minimum Wage (per hour) $3.65 $10.45
Expo 1986

Can you spot the station?


Do you remember these tickets?

expo 86

The very first Ticket Vending Machines

Do you have an Expo ’86 memory you’d like to share? Did you take SkyTrain when it first launched?

Author: Sarah Kertcher


  • By Ed P from Victoria BC, May 2, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

    I was living in Vancouver during Expo and the opening of the Skytrain, but had to move to Ontario because of job loss during the absolutely miserable economy at the time. Of course, now I’m totally priced out of Vancouver ;(. Expo 86 was great, the SkyTrain was fantastic, although terrifying (no driver – what could possibly go wrong?)

    Fascinating that transit fares are up by a factor of 2.4, minimum wage by a factor of 2.8, but houses by a factor of 13.

  • By Sarah Kertcher, May 3, 2016 @ 8:37 am

    Thanks for sharing your memory Ed! And yes, the inflation on home prices in Vancouver is quite unbelievable.

  • By Stefan, May 4, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

    Wow, has it really been 30 years!?

    I rode SkyTrain on opening day, back on December 11th, 1985. BC Transit ran the train free for 3 weekends in December, before the full revenue opening on January 3rd. (You can read it all about it right here in the Buzzer: the I wasn’t on the first train, and I got on an already-packed eastbound train at Stadium: it was insanely crowded!

    Back then, the Mark I cars had grey carpeting, and you had to open the doors manually by pressing a button. Each set of doors had one button on the outside of the doors, and another mounted on one of the stanchions near the doors. As I recall, you can still see the metal rectangles covering up where the buttons used to be on the inside poles. And on Sunday mornings, the trains didn’t start running until late–about 9 or 10 AM? Suburban buses still went Downtown early Sunday mornings.

    I also rode the 1-km demonstration section from Main Street Station east along Terminal in the summer of ’83; plus another summer (’85, perhaps?), there was a weekend when they ran tours along some completed sections of track. I don’t remember much, but Edmonds was one of the finished stations where you could board a train from. The whole Station Hill area seemed to be all forest back then…and no BC Hydro building either, nor the tunnel!

  • By Stefan, May 4, 2016 @ 2:12 pm

    Too many memories of Expo to share, but SkyTrain played an important role. The monorail line that ran around the Expo site (you can see it in the video at the end of the article) passed alongside Stadium-Chinatown Station on its own guideway, and stopped adjacent the third, currently-unused platform at the station. From there, a SkyTrain shuttle boarded passengers, went east over the crossover, then headed direct to Waterfront Station without stopping. At Waterfront, the platform was divided in two, with the inbound tracks used for regular trains to/from New Westminster and the outbound tracks used for the Expo shuttles (if I recall). The outbound platform was fenced off, and passengers went west out the Howe exit to Canada Place, which was the Canadian Pavilion during Expo ’86. To get back to the main fairground, they went back down to the tracks, hopped on an eastbound shuttle back to Stadium, and crossed the platform to get back on a monorail.

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