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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Though the Beatles never performed a live concert in Ottawa, the city does have a unique connection to the Beatles. John and Yoko's decision to visit and use Canada in 1969 as a venue for delivering their campaign on world peace was generally embraced by our youth of its day. What made it more interesting for us all locally, was that Ottawa, Canada's Capital, was unexpectedly included into the Lennon's itinerary. How it all happened is a very intriguing story to tell.

As a 14-year-old back then, I recall how my own interest was titillated by the Canadian media's own fascination over the arrival of John and Yoko into Canada: it was reported they landed in Toronto from the Bahamas on Sunday, May 25, 1969, where they stayed over-night at the King Edward Hotel. It was on this date, John Lennon tapes a pre-bed-in recording of "Give Peace A Chance" (on the hit parade, just the day before, a Beatles' song "Get Back" officially hits #1 on the US charts). The following day the press interviews John and Yoko in the King Edward Hotel but the media soon caught wind that John and Yoko were moving their "peace campaign" on to Montreal, Québec. The couple boarded a plane on the evening of Monday, May 26, 1969 and flew to Montreal, a city known for its beautiful and eloquent cosmopolitan look, the Lennons decidedly checked into room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The move proved to be strategically successful for the Lennons as the Queen Elizabeth Hotel became the "central focusing point" for their "peace campaign." With an open invitation to all media platforms from John and Yoko (based on an idea from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), the couple conducted interviews with the press and even brought on board some famous celebraties such as Dick Gregory, Tommy Smothers (his brother "Dick" was never at the "bed-in") and right-wing cartoonist Al Capp for a dialogue on peace. John and Yoko's activities during this time worked exceedingly well as news reports quickly travelled out from Montreal to all of North America. Back in Ottawa the students alumni at the University of Ottawa picked up on the activities of John and Yoko through the media.

Ottawa, in 1969, as local residents would more than likely tell you, was a most unassuming Capital back then with its usual 9-5 public servants -- a least unlikely place for John and Yoko to show up. Recalling my memories from that time period, I truly believed that the Lennons' "peace campaign" would have been maintained between the two bigger city centers, Toronto and Montreal. Those two large cities with their large media Meccas were, in my opinion, ripe for the Lennons in order get their "peace message" out. That in-of-itself should have been a good enough reason for John and Yoko not to have shown up in Ottawa. To have suggested to anyone locally in 1969 of procuring John and Yoko in order to have them show up in Ottawa, would have been a-bit-of-a-stretch. But the Lennons did turn up and we were all surprised including the local media.

A recent C.B.C. television special aired in December, 2000, "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" detailed how that came into being. According to the program, there were actually two main people who inspired the Lennons to come to Ottawa. The first to inspire the idea was a young 14-year-old student named Jerry Levitan (today, a lawyer by practice, who has written his own account of these events) who snuck into the King Edward Sheraton hotel at 7:00 a.m. in Toronto where the Lennons were first staying at the time. Jerry Levitan eventually found the couple's hotel room and managed to actually get in and talk to them in person. Not only was he able to talk to them, but he used his brothers Super-8 movie camera and filmed the Lennons (some of that colour video footage was aired during that C.B.C. television broadcast.) During this discussion he mentioned to John and Yoko how cool Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was and emphasized how the two of them should make it a point of meeting him in person. John replied to Jerry that "If you young people think Mr. Trudeau is cool then maybe we should meet him." The second individual who became the catalyst in bringing John and Yoko to Ottawa was then 21-year-old University of Ottawa Student President, Allan Rock (today he serves as Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations. When this report was first published, as a Liberal politician he held the position as Canada's Federal Health Minister.) Mr. Rock came up with a unique angle in how to get the two ambassador's of peace to come from Montreal and visit Ottawa: why not tell John and Yoko that the students association at the campus planned on having a Seminar On World Peace at the University that included not only the students and the media, but also the Prime Minister of Canada? To achieve this, Allan decided to visit the Lennons in Montreal and put forward his proposal (see the press clippings for details.)

Throughout the "bed-in" in Montreal, the city's only rock and roll station was CFOX (1470 on the radio dial back then) had made arrangements to have DJ Chuck Chandler interview John and Yoko on a daily basis using a mobile broadcasting facility in the same room as the Lennons, not far from their bedside. Towards the end of the Montreal "bed-in" is when Allan Rock would appear with his proposal, a bold and brave move by the young 21-year-old Student President. I'm sure CFOX's Chuck Chandler must have been very intrigued by the idea floating around the hotel room of a possible meeting between Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau and the Lennons in Ottawa. And, as the C.B.C.'s television special "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" would reveal, Chuck Chandler tried to get a definite confirmation from Derek Taylor (Apple Record's "Press Officer") as to whether John and Yoko would end up actually meeting the Prime Minister. The film footage showed Derek's answer as being extremely aloof and very vague with no concrete answer for Chuck Chandler as to whether the meeting with Pierre Trudeau would occur or not.

And of course, in spite of the uncertainty, John and Yoko did decide to visit Ottawa on June 3, 1969, but, unfortunately, not with the Prime Minister in attendance. However, all was not lost for John and Yoko -- they did hold an interesting Seminar On World Peace with the students and media. During their visit and at John Lennon's request, Allan Rock drove the Lennons around in his beetle for a tour of the city. They eventually stopped right at the front doorsteps of 24 Sussex Drive -- the Prime Minister's residence -- whereupon John wrote and left a message for Pierre Trudeau since he wasn't home. That letter created the necessary window of opportunity to set up a future meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau that was held on December 23, 1969 during their third and final visit to Canada. John and Yoko met Prime Minister Trudeau for nearly fifty minutes. You can read the actual media coverage here at the Ottawa Beatles Web Site listed under "Historical Interest." (See the Ottawa Citizen's "PM -- 'a beautiful person' and for the Ottawa Journal's "Lennons Came for 5 Minutes; Stayed With PM an Hour" filed within the menu list as: "Lennons visit Ottawa.")

As mentioned in these opening remarks, Ottawa does have a unique connection to the Beatles:

George Harrison had an over-night visit to Ottawa on February 28, 1969 and stayed at the Chateau Laurier Hotel. The purpose of George's visit was to determine whether American folk singer Eric Anderson would be worth adding to their repertoire of Apple artists or not. After watching Eric's performance at the Capitol Theatre, George then turned up at the Le Hibou, a local music club where he saw The Modern Rock Quartet perform.

John Lennon's psychedelic "Phantom V Rolls-Royce" which was painted by The Fool was showcased here in Ottawa at the Museum of Science and Technology in 1996. What a thrill it was viewing that car up close! The fine details of artwork is pretty amazing!!

Paul McCartney's authentic "Abbey Road" Gold Record LP as certified by the RIAA for 1 million sales of that album. Robie, Ottawa's hardcore collector of Beatles' memorabilia has had this Gold Record in his possession for over two decades! It's a nice trophy for any serious Beatle collector to have (see the 1995 photos taken at the Ottawa Beatles Convention, and, if you search hard for another link on the main Convention page, you will find a large close-up photo of the actual Gold Record taken by Tony Copple, circa 2000.)

"Beatlemania" as coined on the Canadian Capitol's album "Beatlemania - With The Beatles" was written by the Ottawa Journal's music reporter Sandy Gardiner on November 9, 1963. Capitol Records of Canada was so impressed with his write-up for The Ottawa Journal that they ended up editing part of his article for that Beatles album cover.

Finally, Ottawa's Yury Polyushonok, author of "Strings for a Beatle Bass" made an appearance on the ABC Television Special: "The Beatles Revolution" describing how the Beatles music impacted on Soviet culture during the times of communistic rule. It was certainly a thrill for us and for Yury to see him get on television and tell his story from a Russian perspective.

Thus, it seems very appropriate that the Ottawa Beatles Site should have the honour of presenting these new photos of John and Yoko's visit to Ottawa. The photographs were taken by Pascal Barrette who worked for the summer as a student at Studio Champlain Marcil. It was the owner, Champlain Marcil (who incidentally worked in the late 1940's as the official photographer for the "Le Droit" in Ottawa) where upon his retirement, he gifted the studios negatives to the National Archives of Québec. These negatives included the ones taken by Pascal Barrette when John and Yoko appeared at the Ottawa University on June 3, 1969. These photographs have never been reproduced in any Beatle book and we hope by visually displaying them, that these photos will help to complete part of the historical journey of John and Yoko's peace activities while they visited Canada during 1969.


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