THE BALLAD OF JOHN AND YOKO
Though the Beatles never performed a live concert here 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 finally performed a concert at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on July 7, 2013. He stayed at the Chateau Laurier Hotel.
"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.
The last 18 months have been pretty hectic for Tony and myself in order to complete the site. When we began creating the Ottawa Beatles Site, we truly wanted a unique focus on "the history of the band", something completely different from the "typical fan sites" that you see and explore on the internet. We realized early on that the best approach was to develop the usage of local articles, those in particular written by The Ottawa Citizen and The Ottawa Journal. Their articles displayed on the Ottawa Beatles Site are from the direct culmination of long hours of research using microfilm at the local library and slowly going through "frame-by-frame", some of the daily news as reported back then. While delving into this part of the research, a sense of "yester-year" or "déjà-vu" rekindles a lost youth, those innocent times we all once knew. The innocence of the '60s youth have today taken on the corporate roles which most of whom would easily have classified themselves back then as "hippies." And what ever happened to the youthful cliché "never trust anyone over 30!"?? At the seemingly impossible but now ripe age of 46, how could I (and some others I suspect) back then have latched on to this and other such a idealisic maxims just to grab the attention of our elders? It does seem a bit cliché today, doesn't it? Ironically though, some of the idealisms from the '60s have garnished themselves right into the new century: John and Yoko's recording of "Give Peace A Chance" is a anthem still sung all over the world today. Hopefully some of the news articles and the pictorial essay presented here will reveal part of the reason as to why there was such a great spirit behind John and Yoko's 1969 peace campaign -- which in my opinion, is still alive and doing quite well.
Therefore, it goes without saying that we are indebted to the following people and their organizions who helped in contributing their resources in making this pictoral essay possible:
Ottawa Citizen: Special thank you to all of the management and staff reporters at The Ottawa Citizen for allowing us to e-publish their articles. I would like to also extend a very special thank you to Ms. Pat Hyndman, who, graciously over the 18-month period, handled all of our requests in obtaining clearances not only for this news article but also for all the previous ones as well. Thank you Pat for your cooperation. We truly appreciated it!
The Ottawa Journal: Special thank you's to all of the Journal staff. Though the paper is no longer in publication, it is hoped that those contributing reporters who see their articles archived and displayed, will once again get a sense of thrill and satisfaction for a job well done (which they did!)
The National Archives of Québec: Special thank you to the management team at the National Archives of Québec for preparing the photos along with the necessary legal documentation in granting the Ottawa Beatles Site an "indeterminate status" to e-publish photos of John and Yoko's visit to Ottawa. Thank you so much!
Follow John's and Yoko's footsteps in a tour of Ottawa in 2001.
To John & Yoko: Who made life a little more
exciting than usual in our nation's Capital in 1969, thank you!
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING "LEGAL NOTICE" CONCERNING THE PHOTOS AND THE RESEARCH USED FOR THIS PRESENTATION:
1) The photos used in this pictorial essay cannot be displayed freely on the
Internet (or Intranet) without first obtaining permission from the National
Archives of Québec;
GIMMICK -- YES
By Judy Barrie
Beatle John Lennon somehow got it into his head that he could step down overnight from the pedestal of frenzied adoration to ardent peacenik.
He's half succeeding.
He rushed through Ottawa Tuesday with his wife Yoko Ono and five-year-old daughter Kyoko, disappointed about 300 students who heard him mutter a couple of words then disappear, but highlighted a lively panel discussion on world peace.
John and Yoko, who know all about mass communication and slick, solicitous advertising maintain that crass gimmicks are the only way to preach peace.
"Instead of conditioning people to buy Coke, instead of making people feel dirty if they don't buy soap, we make people feel dirty if they don't think about peace or love everyday," said Yoko.
She said a man came to their bedside in Montreal and offered a peace pamphlet for their perusal. It bore some philosophical preachings on the front and "stuffy words inside."
"We just didn't read it," said Yoko, who far outspoke her husband. "Ordinary people won't look at that kind of thing."
"You've got to make people aware that there is an alternative, that war and violence aren't inevitable," said John.
When panelists Allan Rock, student union president who visited Lennon in Montreal to arrange the visit and Martin Loney, president of Canadian Union of Students began pressing for concrete details and a definition of peace, volatile panelist Bruno Gerussi let go.
Academic clichés "really don't mean a hell of a lot," he said, the anger rising in his voice. "Philosophy isn't what you think, it's what you do."
Lennon told his listeners they could start right in the room, and admonished photographers for snapping shots of his daughter and "scaring the kid" although the little girl looked very self-assured as she held her fingers in 'V' form and repeated "Peace, peace."
Lennon was scheduled to arrive in Ottawa at 4 p.m. when he would greet students in front of the university's administration building. Half an hour later they were told he'd arrive at 6:30 p.m.
But at that point Lennon must have been nearing the outskirts of Ottawa and the chosen few (mostly newsmen and photographers) were let in on the secret, and directed to the arts building.
Apparently the Beatle had trouble getting out of Montreal when the limousine service demanded some $2,000 in case of damage to its car by fans. They got underway an hour later, but John, plagued by a stomach ailment had to stop for tea along the way and the party wired ahead that garlic pills be bought for him.
Dressed in white the three were hustled into a room off the arts building lobby, about 5:30 p.m.
Meantime, 150 spectators trying to look blasé, (after all, Lennon is nothing more than our brother now -- he's working for peace) but really, tense with the excitement of seeing a real live Beatle, tried to rush the door.
It turned out the party just wanted a little time to go to the bathroom, while university football players stood guard. But it was ironic that Allan Rock had to yell, "let's not use violence" just before a peace conference.
Towards the end when it was established that all the panellists, which included Prof. Colin Wells, vice-dean of the university of arts faculty and a student, Alexis Blanchette, agreed on peace by practice, John Lennon spoke for the first time about the other Beatles.
"They're with me, only on their own individual scene," said John.
"We never were the fab four that everybody thought. George works just as hard as I do to communicate the same message, but in a different way.
"We were part of a movement, we influenced and we followed, but didn't propagate anything," said John.
Lennon made a last-minute attempt to see Prime Minister Trudeau Tuesday night, when he paid an unexpected visit to 24 Sussex Drive. But he was told by a maid Mr. Trudeau was out. He left a flower and a note for the prime minister, and departed after having his picture taken with the Mountie on duty.
Copyright by The Ottawa Citizen, published on June 4, 1969.
Dressed in all-white suits, Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono brought their crusade for peace to Ottawa Tuesday and urged their followers to sell it like merchandise -- by using advertising.
"You must plug peace and make it known as an alternative to war," Mr. Lennon told a select group of 50 students and reporters at a University of Ottawa seminar sponsored by the students union.
The Lennons and daughter Kyoko arrived in Ottawa late in the afternoon after a drive from Montreal where the couple had just finished a week-long bed-in campaigning for peace from a hotel suite.
They were due to appear on the lawn of the university's administration building at 4 p.m., but that was put back to 4:30 and just before then an announcement was made to several hundred waiting youngsters that the Lennons would not be making the scene until 6:30 p.m. because of "a mechanical breakdown."
But the Lennons feinted them right out of their shoes and arrived at the arts building at 5 p.m.
They went straight into discussion on a panel which included actor-CBC personality Bruno Gerussi, Colin Wells, chairman of the university's classics department, Martin Loney, president of the Canadian Union of Students, and Al Rock, president of the university's student union.
Youngsters were left standing in the rain until the Lennons made a brief appearance at 7 p.m. outside the administration building.
The couple have been trying to avoid the younger crowds during their stay in Canada to speak to the news media and reach as many people as possible, it has been explained.
During the panel discussion and press conference which followed John and Yoko lashed radicals who love peace and refuse to try to convince the "squares."
"They (the radicals) are just snobs," said John and Yoko at different times.
"Use the system and don't be snobs about peace," John declared.
As examples, he said he and American comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory have been able to infiltrate the system, make money and spread their messages.
"They (people who run the system) are more greedy than they are prejudiced," he said.
In other comments John declared "cops are human" and "all prime ministers compromise their principles to get where they are -- even the best."
John had hoped to meet Prime Minister Trudeau during his stay in Canada, but the prime minister's office said he was too busy to meet the Beatle.
Copyright by The Ottawa Journal, published June 4, 1969
A beautiful and rare photo of Yoko and John (holding Kyoko) as they pass through the doorways of the Arts Building at the University of Ottawa Campus
John Lennon enters the conference room at a brisk walk, somewhat reminiscent in the style found on the "Abbey Road" album cover. Behind John, Yoko Ono also enters.
Here's a lovely picture of Yoko with her white hat which she appeared to have worn fairly regularly during the 1969 Peace Campaign.
"All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance!"
The C.B.C. television special, "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" disclosed that "Give Peace A Chance" was rehearsed by John for a week before it was finally recorded by "The Plastic Ono Band" in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal on Sunday, June 1, 1969. The record became first solo single done by a Beatle and was issued in Britian on July 4, 1969.
Some of the major names who assisted in the recording of "Give Peace A
Round-table discussion -- "Seminar On World Peace" -- as coined by Student President Allan Rock. The discussion lasted 90 minutes.
Allan Rock, to your immediate right, was then a 21-year-old President of the Student's Union at the University of Ottawa. Today, Mr. Rock is a Liberal politician who currently holds office as Canada's "Federal Minister of Health." A previous political appointment saw him in the portfolio as "Federal Minister of Justice."
"I just remember that the people of Canada were so great. I mean, they
were sending us such warm vibrations....It was a very nice warm memory and of
course you know they were so good to us that we probably wouldn't have been
inspired to do all that, Give Peace A Chance, etc., you know."
On this picture, look towards your immediate right and then look just above the glasses that Student President Allan Rock is wearing and you'll see none-other than Apple's Press Officer, Derek Taylor!
Historical Footnote: Apart from Derek's active participation in the recording of "Give Peace A Chance" which became a musical landmark, Derek's personal song of the moment occurred on June 2, 1969. He requested CFOX's Chuck Chandler to especially play for him "Don't Look Back" by Bob Dylan.
John Lennon: 'One problem with what we're doing is that we'll never know how successful we are. With the Beatles, you put out a record and either it's a hit or it's a miss. I don't expect the prime ministers or kings and queens of the world to suddenly change their policies just because John and Yoko have said "Peace, peace brother." It would be nice! But it's youth we're addressing. Youth is the future. If we can get inside their minds and tell them to think in favour of non-violence, we'll be satisifed. What's the point of getting fame as a Beatle and not using it?' -- From: John Lennon by Ray Coleman, 1985, a Futura publication.
Yoko Ono: "Instead of conditioning people to buy Coke, instead of making people feel dirty if they don't buy soap, we make people feel dirty if they don't think about peace or love everyday." -- From The Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 1969
"My deep impression of him is of a man who was kind, and gentle,
thoughtful, with deep deep convictions which he expressed sometimes in a
very...a very naive way or over-simplified way. But, they were all so positive,
and all so humanitarian that you really couldn't find fault with the energy that
he put into this cause that he believed in so deeply."
John Lennon: "You've got to make people aware that there is an alternative, that war and violence aren't inevitable." -- From The Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 1969.
Rabbi Abraham Feinberg: "The love that the two of them have for each other
extends itself to all humanity...it really does. I've already heard from leaders
of the movement in the United States and Canada how happy they are that John and
Yoko have undertaken to be the spearhead (they don't like to be referred to as
leaders but they are leaders because of what they are.) And, there's no couple
in the world behind whom the young people will organize themselves more
enthusiastically than behind John and Yoko. Not only because of their fame and
their acclaim and prestige and influence, but because of their personal
qualities of character." -- Rabbi Abraham Feinberg's personal reflections during
1969 as revealed on the C.B.C. special television broadcast:
Yoko Ono, circa 1969 at the University of Ottawa
"The Ballad of John and Yoko" b/w "Old Brown Shoe" by The Beatles was
released on May 30, 1969 in the U.K.
John and Yoko returned to England from Canada on June 7, 1969.
After the Seminar On World Peace concluded at 7:00 p.m., Allan Rock
-- at the request of John Lennon, ended up giving John and Yoko a tour of
Ottawa: "...he wanted to see something of the city. He and Yoko Ono sat in the
rear of my Volkswagon fastback as I drove around the capital, with John at one
point singing along to the Beatles' Get Back on the radio ("Turn it up!"
he yelled from the back)."
Additional materials used in this Research:
The Globe And Mail, "You Can Say I'm A Dreamer" by Allan Rock, Section R4 of the newspaper, Friday December 8, 2000.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Passionate Eye's special television broadcast: "John & Yoko's Year of Peace", December, 2000.
John Lennon, by Ray Coleman, Futura Books, published 1985.
The Beatles - The Ultimate Recording Guide, by Allen J. Wiener, published by Bob Adams Incorporated, published 1994.
The Complete Beatles Chronicles, by Mark Lewisohn, published by Hamlyn, paperback edition, 2000.
The World Beatles Forum, "Beatles In Canada" by Mark Peters with contributions from editor Brad Howard, published in their January/February 2000 edition.
BEATLE FANS: Click on the link for subscription information regarding The World Beatles Forum , an excellent Beatle publication direct from Ottawa! Brad Howard, along with his skillful team of researchers have conducted some of the most fascinating interviews regarding the Beatles. The World Beatles Forum has interviewed: Mark Lewisohn (a 10,000-word interview exclusive); Hamish Stuart (7,000-word interview); Bruce Spizer (17,000 words); Harhald Gernhardt (10,000-word interview); The World Beatles Forum has also interviewed Bill Harry, editor of Mersey Beat as well as Nick Lowe. Plans are currently in the works for a future interview with Sid Bernstein.
P.S. Kudos to Brad Howard for furnishing me with the details about George Harrison's visit to Ottawa from his publication. Thanks Brad! - j.w.
Page updated on May 10, 2018.