Canadian Tattoo performances marking Canada Week at Century 21 Exposition begin on September 11, 1962.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 12/06/2011
  • Essay 9974
On September 11, 1962, Canada Week at Century 21 Exposition begins with the first of six planned performances of the Canadian Tattoo in Memorial Stadium. A highly dramatized reenactment of a traditional end-of-evening routine in military encampments, the Canadian Tattoo at the Seattle World's Fair is performed by the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The spectacle proves to be a highlight of the six-month fair.

The government of Canada was a major official participant in the fair, and the Canada Pavilion was one of the largest international displays. Among the displays in the Canada Pavilion were Canada's first satellite, the S-27 Topside Sounder, which was on display at the fair prior to its planned launch. Other displays in the Canada Pavilion highlighted Canada's research into the peaceful use of atomic energy, Canadian medical advances, a 30-foot glass tank housing a wave-maker used to test breakwater designs, and a Trans Canada Airways advanced electronic reservations machine. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Canada Week "one of the biggest and brightest of all Seattle World's Fair weeks" ("Fanfare Heralds Canada Week").

What Is A Tattoo?

According to the official Canadian Tattoo souvenir program,

"In the 17th century, in Holland, British troops were billeted in towns and villages where local inns became the social centers for the soldiers. To get them back to their billets at night it became necessary for innkeepers to turn off their beer taps and stop selling liquor. ... It was notified to all concerned by a drummer marching through the billeting area beating a 'call.'  ... When the innkeepers hear[d] it, they remark[ed], 'Doe den tap toe.' which, freely translated, means: 'Turn off the taps.' ... In modern times the 'tattoo' has developed into a military display of spectacular proportions designed to entertain audiences of thousands. ... The Tattoo will tell the story of Canadian history as it was under two cultures -- French and British -- and as it is today" (p.13).

Tattoo performances were preceded by a Guard of Honor that welcomed the evening's guest of honor. A massed bands display featuring members of the four participating forces then opened the show. Scenes depicting Canada during the French and British regimes followed, with participants in costumed in military uniforms that were historically accurate for their various time periods. A fantasy sequence entitled "A Soldier's Dream" followed.

Next came the Tattoo's dramatic Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride, a precision equestrian display featuring mounted performers in colorful uniforms filling the field under bright roving spotlights. The Musical Ride lasted 22 minutes, and the entire spectacle took two and a half hours. Sentries in modern battledress then ushered in the grand finale, which included the entire 650-member cast.

Months Of Planning

As explained in the souvenir program, planning and rehearsing for the spectacle took military precision:

"Preparations for the tattoo began three months ago in military camps across the whole of Canada.  Units participating didn't see one another until arriving in Seattle about one week ago.  Since their arrival in the Fair City, practices and dress rehearsals have interwoven these units into a tightly-knit show. 

"Research into the authenticity of costumes and weapons -- arranging of descriptive music -- design and construction of the facade, hours of practice in addition to normal service duties -- all are part of the tattoo as it comes to life on the floor of Memorial Stadium on the fair grounds.  This is the first tattoo of such proportions ever undertaken by Canadian Service personnel" (p.6).

Welcome, Canadians

The first tattoo performers arrived on a Great Northern Railway train at Seattle's King Street Station on September 6, 1962.  Many Seattle families were on hand to greet this vanguard, which included 36 horses that would be participating in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride. Horses and scarlet-jacketed riders paraded from the train station to the fairgrounds. The horses were stabled in the lower level of the Opera House, which had been transformed for their stay with temporary plywood stalls bedded with hay and cedar shavings.

Fair employees dismantled the 26-foot-wide concrete aquadrome that had encircled Memorial Stadium's outer track.  The aquadrome, which held 100,000 gallons of water, had served as a liquid stage for water-ski impresario Tommy Bartlett's popular free water-skiing show, which had attracted audiences since the fair opened. The Royal Canadian Engineers then began transforming Memorial Stadium into a replica of Fort Henry, based on the original, which had been built in Kingston, Ontario, during the War of 1812. The fort's stone facade was constructed across the entryway to the field using 400 sections of plywood that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. 

The squadron that assembled Fort Henry also performed in the tattoo.  The 33-member unit, rouged and powdered and carrying wooden swords, took the parts of parading tin soldiers during the "Soldier's Dream" sequence. 

More than 1,000 fair visitors watched the tattoo's dress rehearsal on Sunday night, September 9.

And the Wind Blew

Despite these fine human and equine preparations, Seattle's September weather was uncooperative.  September 10 (intended to be Opening Night) was plagued by wind and rain, drenching spectators and muddying the field.  In mid-afternoon, the Fort Henry set blew down. 

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer saw a parallel between the incident and the biblical story of the fall of Jericho: "The wind blew through Seattle like Joshua's trumpets yesterday and the walls came tumbling down. Down like the Walls of Jericho came the tower of the fort built in the World's Fair stadium as a backdrop for the Canadian Tattoo.  Vanquished by the wind-blown rain as the Army of Jericho were the Canadian troops who last night intended to present their opening tattoo.  At 2:55 p.m., wind gusts up to 40 m.p.h. caught the 65-foot 'martello' tower and toppled it onto the lower section.  No one was hurt" ("Wind Blows Down Tower...").

The performance scheduled for September 10 was cancelled.  Space Needle carillon player John Klein, meanwhile, belted out "Singing In The Rain" and "Stormy Weather."  The Seattle Times reported this ironic celebration of Seattle's signature weather under the headline, "Space Needle's Carillon Gets 'In The Mood.'"

Weather predictions called for more rain, so fair officials quickly ordered that the mushy field be paved with asphalt.  They left a 100-foot-wide strip in the center of the field unpaved -- the famous horse and rider Musical Ride could not be performed on a hard surface.  Royal Canadian Engineers worked all night to repair the Fort Henry set. 

The Show Goes On

The Tattoo opened on September 11, 1962, drawing an audience of 15,000.  By all accounts, fairgoers loved the stirring spectacle.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported:

"Someone check the Post Office.  The Canadian colors may be flying from the flag pole.  Such was the impact last night of the Canadian Tattoo, a military pageant presented in the World's Fair Stadium...Ten scenes flew by in an accelerated 2 1/2 hours.  The pageant ended with four marching bands and three pipe and drum units massed to play "The Maple Leaf Forever,"  "Scotland The Brave," and "Vive La Canadienne" (September 12, 1962).

By the weekend of September 15-16, balmy weather had returned. Fairgoers packed the stadium for the Tattoo each evening. The show began at 8:00, but the stadium was usually standing room only by 5:15, and filled to capacity by 5:30. Spectators who were denied access thereafter made do with impromptu seating on the ground of the hillside to the stadium's west end. Even the fair's telephone lines were jammed with callers seeking information about the Tattoo. Fair officials added an extra performance to make up for the opening night cancellation. 

Fair president Joseph Gandy (1904-1971) expressed his gratitude to Tattoo performers in a letter that he asked be read to each unit: "The Canadian Tattoo has become and will ever remain in history the greatest and most thrilling spectacle of the Seattle World's Fair. Each of you has performed with magnificent precision your role in the great presentation of Canadian history. Rain or shine you went on like the soldiers and artisans that you are, and in every instance gave all who witnessed a new and exciting image of Canada" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 16, 1962, p.16).

O Canada

The Royal Canadian Navy sent five destroyers to Seattle during Canada Week. The vessels were moored at Pier 91 and the public was invited to tour them. Besides the ships and tattoo, Canada Week events also included daily performances of the Royal Canadian Aerobatics Team; screening of films produced in Canada; the Montreal Theatre Company's American premiere of Gratien Gelina's study of French Canadian life, Bousille and the Just; and daily concerts by a 100-piece military band (touted as the largest musical unit ever assembled by the Royal Canadian Air Force).

Canada Week and especially the Canadian Tattoo were a huge draw, attracting many local residents for a repeat (or multiple repeat) visit. Attending the tattoo was free to ticketed fairgoers, and the event boosted fair admissions during Canada Week. On Saturday, September 15, 106,000 patrons filled the fairgrounds to bursting. Over its seven performances some 150,000 fairgoers enjoyed the Canadian Tattoo.

Sources: Eleanor Bell, "Mounties (and Horse) Arrive Here Like Circus," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 7, 1962, p. 7; Jack Jarvis, "The Horse Only Mountie Symbol," Ibid., September 8, 1962, p. 12; "Fanfare Heralds Canada Week At Fair," Ibid., September 10, 1962, p. 17; "Wind Blows Down Tower Of Canadian Fair 'Fort,'" Ibid., September 11, 1962, p. 1; "Canadian Tattoo Thrills Over 15,000," Ibid., September 12, 1962, p.9; "World's Fair Sets Record As Crowds Pour In," Ibid., September 16, 1962, p. 1; "Canada Tattoo Called 'Greatest Spectacle'," Ibid., September 16, 1962, p. 16; Stanton H. Patty, "Sappers Erect Old Fort Henry in Fair Stadium," The Seattle Times, September 7, 1962, p. C-5;"Space Needle's Carillon Gets 'In The Mood'," Ibid., September 10, 1962, p. 2; "New Floor Awaits Tattoo," Ibid., September 11, 1962, p. A; "Fair Manages To Cope With Giant Crowds," Ibid., September 16, 1962, p. A; "The Canadian Tattoo" official souvenir program, September 10-15, 1962, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle; Official Guide Book Seattle World's Fair 1962 (Seattle: Acme Publications, 1962), p. 76; Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein, The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 2011), p. 175-178.

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