Cultivating Tourism in Haiti: The Bicentennial International Exposition of Port-au-Prince, 1949
By Hadassah St. Hubert, Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Miami
The 1949 Bicentennial International Exposition of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, also known as the “Festival of Peace,” was held during the presidency of Dumarsais Estimé (1946-1950). Sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), this International Exposition celebrated the 200th anniversary of the founding of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It also represented an effort by Dumarsais Estimé’s government to beautify and modernize the capital to encourage tourism and international investment.
The exposition area, known as the Cité de l’Exposition or Cité Dumarsais Estimé, created a new waterfront area for tourists and locals to enjoy. Palm trees lined the principal artery named after former United States president Harry S. Truman (1945-1953). The architecture and visual art in the Cité de l’Exposition featured the work of Haitians and foreigners including Albert Mangonès, August F. Schmiedigen, and Jason Seley. Participants included the United States, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, San Marino, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Canada, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Chile, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. Pan American Airways, Vatican City, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States (OAS) participated in the festivities as well.
Activities included ferris wheel rides, an aquarium, and other attractions at the Ross Manning circus show. Other sites included a casino, cock-fighting arena, and folkloric performances at the Théâtre de Verdure. These performances by the Troupe Folklorique Nationale, directed by Jean Léon Destiné and Lina Mathon-Blanchet, led to the international popularity of Haitian dance in the 1950s. The exposition featured regional entertainment from the Caribbean along with black entertainers from the United States. Marian Anderson’s performance at the Théâtre de Verdure attracted more than 3,000 spectators including Dumarsais Estimé and his wife, Lucienne Heurtelou.
Coined as the “Little World’s Fair” by Life Magazine, the Expo held from December 8, 1949 to June 8, 1950, cost the Haitian government about USD $4 million. Tourism was a developing industry in Haiti and Dumarsais Estimé invested heavily in hope that the media attention would attract tourists to the island in the long term. Pan American Airways advertised the international exposition in addition to historic sites and cities, such as the Citadel, Sans Souci Palace, Kenscoff, Cap-Haïtien, and Jacmel. During the exposition, Pan American Airways had to increase the number of flights from the United States to Haiti. A coup, led by the Haitian military, was launched against Estimé’s government in May 1950 forcing him into exile. Paul Magloire, one of the coup leaders, became president of Haiti and was able to build on the infrastructural changes in the capital to foster the nascent tourist industry. Part of the Expo’s legacy was its inauguration of the period that has been called the “Golden Age” of Haitian tourism.
This text initially appeared as part of Haiti: An Island Luminous, “The International Exposition of Port-au-Prince, 1949-50.” Cover image from Expo Catalogue. Source: CIDIHCA- Centre International De Documentation & D'Information Haitienne Caraïbéenne & Afrocanadienne. Text by Hadassah St. Hubert, Ph.D. candidate in History and McKnight Doctoral fellow at the University of Miami. St. Hubert also serves as Assistant Editor for Haiti: An Island Luminous.