The first of three visits to Toronto by the Beatles in the 1960s lasted only a few short hours but their effect on our city lasted a lifetime and if you were hanging around the King Edward Hotel Sept. 7, 1964, it’s a moment in time you’ll never forget.
The Beatles arrival coincided with the city itself undergoing a massive transformation both physically with urban renewal in full swing and culturally with a world wide mass immigration changing the face of Toronto forever.
In the middle of this flux, the biggest, hippest and most popular music phenomenon EVER were in town and for thousands of teenagers across Canada watching this all unfold on television it was the moment Toronto suddenly appeared to be very cool after decades of being considered very dull.
The tour of 1964 which also included the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, took the four lads from Liverpool to over 100 cities in England, Denmark, the Netherlands, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada. The Beatles’ plane touched down in Toronto from Detroit in the morning; they arrived at the King Edward Hotel—then owned by the Sheraton chain—in the afternoon, went to Maple Leaf Gardens via police wagon to do a show in the evening, came back to the King Edward at night for a short sleep then whisked off to Montreal the next day.
Accompanying the Beatles in between countless shows and a myriad of hotel rooms was the frenzied sound of screaming crowds. Here in Toronto over 3,000 hysterical fans, the vast majority being teenage girls descended the lobby of the King Edward Hotel completely catching the hotel’s staff off guard. The Beatles stayed in the hotel’s Royal Suite (sometimes referred to as the Vice Regal Suite) on the 8th floor and were charged $85 for a night’s stay. It was the same suite since the hotel’s opening on May 11, 1903 that all the greats from the world of show business from the brilliant Italian tenor Enrico Caruso to Canadian-born film sensation Mary Pickford to the waves of deposed European aristocracy all made the Vice Regal Suite overlooking the corner of King and Victoria streets home for one night or more. It was also the same suite where just a few months earlier Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton caused a worldwide scandal by living together openly and unmarried.
Piers Hemmingsen, author of the new book >The Beatles In Canada – The Origins Of Beatlemania> tells me: “ The Beatles only ever stayed overnight in one city in Canada and that was in Toronto at the Sheraton King Edward Hotel on King Street.
While at the King Edward, all four Beatles stayed in the Royal Suite. As a gift from a fan, John Lennon was given a special red and white striped 1920s nightshirt and many pictures were taken of him relaxing in that and they graced the covers of many weekend supplement magazines across Canada later that year. Many people, including Toronto Mayor Phil Givens and his wife (at 1:30 a.m.!) tried in vain to meet the Beatles while they were in their suite.
The hotel was under siege for the nearly 36 hours that the Beatles were in Toronto. The hotel staff had to deal with numerous fans who thought of any way they could to get into the hotel. While at the hotel, George Harrison was paid a visit by his Uncle and his older sister, along with their families. Beatles manager Brian Epstein did not travel to Toronto on this occasion and the job of looking after the Beatles during their stay at the King Edward was delegated to the touring staff.
They performed concerts in Vancouver and Montreal in 1964 but did not stay overnight in those cities. The King Edward can rightly claim to be the (only) >Beatles Hotel in Canada>.
The Beatles stayed at the hotel during their North American tours of 1964, 1965 and 1966, a total of three visits over three years.“
The King Edward Hotel made international “Beatles” headlines again with the arrival of John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their famous bed-in-for peace tour on May 25, 1969 when the famous pair gave a press conference in bed in the same suite John had stayed in with the Beatles a few years earlier. The nest day John and Yoko left for a week-long stay at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal where they recorded their now legendary >Give Peace a Chance.
The King Eddy’s Royal Suite, although luxurious, was for many years very understated with only a living room, two bedrooms, two baths and no kitchen. Liz Taylor had asked for a refrigerator to be brought in. It wasn’t until 1980 when the hotel underwent a massive renovation that a brand-new Royal Suite was created at the other end of the hotel by joining three huge suites together, making far more lavish living quarters. It was then that the former Royal Suite where the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor once held court simply became known as >Suite #869.
The Beatles are as popular today as they were 50 years ago and in that time many groups and hotels have come and gone. However the Beatles and the King Eddy have remained as beloved as ever.
I still have a few spaces left for my Beatles 50th Anniversary tour of the King Edward Hotel Sunday Sept. 7, including a visit to the abandoned Crystal Ballroom and the famous Beatles Suite where we will sing our favourite Beatles songs 50 years to the day. $25 per person. Call (647) 393-8687 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.