“All we are saying is give peace a chance”
– John Lennon, 1969
May 26, 1969, the staff at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montréal, Québec are frantically preparing for the unexpected, unanticipated arrival of one of history’s most influential music figures. No stranger to esteemed guests, the hotel has had its share of run-ins with famous people. In its short 56 year history, it had accommodated hundreds of celebrities, delegates and dignitaries. Some of the world’s most influential people have passed through its doors including Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. This time was a little different, however. John Lennon, former member of the Beatles, and his wife, Yoko Ono, have made arrangements to stage a “bed-in for peace”.
What was the “bed-in”?
With the Vietnam War raging on, Lennon and Ono took to the traditional “sit-in” protest method and elaborated. Rather than protesting on the streets and in front of government buildings, the newly introduced “bed-ins” were set inside hotel rooms and in the comfort of a bed. This unconventional method of protest, which first kicked off in Amsterdam, was to peacefully speak out against wars and experimental testing. Four rooms were occupied by the couple and friends – 1738, 1740, 1742, and 1744. It should be noted that the song Give Peace a Chance was recorded on June 1, 1969 during their Montréal bed-in. Within the walls of their suite in room 1742, the recording session was in the presence of several celebrities and journalists.
45 years later..
Following extensive renovations and upgrades at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, room 1744 is no longer available (simply because it no longer exists). Guests, however, are permitted to reserve the other rooms (1738 and 1740), or suite 1742 where the magic of Lennon and Ono unfolded.
Vivian and I were privileged to have been taken on a private tour of the hotel. From the state of the art fitness centre to the gold members’ club, we were provided a mere glimpse of what it’s like to travel in luxury. The suite of Lennon and Ono, however, was an experience like no other. As a Beatles fan, I cannot find the words to express the feeling of awe that overcame me the moment I stepped foot in the suite.
Without further ado, here is what lies beyond the wooden door and its coveted brass and braille plaque:
Immediately as you enter, you are greeted by a chandelier light fixture and two sets of windowed doors. To the left, access to the living room. To the right, a master bedroom. As you stand in the small foyer, you are reminded of the room’s significance. Decorating the walls are framed photos and articles of the couple’s famous bed-in that occurred just 45 years earlier.
It was in this comfortable, spacious living room where all the events unfolded. Reporters and journalists huddled in the other room while Lennon and Ono had their bed closely pushed up against the window. “HAIR PEACE”, “BED PEACE” – the signs that hung behind them read. It was in this room where Lennon found the inspiration to compose Give Peace a Chance. “All we are saying is give peace a chance” – lyrics that echoed throughout the world in a time of crisis.
As we sat in this room, I must admit that it was a little eerie. Guests have mentioned feeling the presence of John Lennon. Others have even refused to spend a night in the suite! Regardless, history within those walls resonated in that room. With the help of Joanne Papineau (Regional Director, Public Relations, Eastern Canada at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth), we were able to read eyewitness accounts of the bed-in – tales that one would not find published in the papers.
By flipping through the hotel’s fragile log book, the firsthand accounts of staff during the hectic days of the bed-in were just priceless. Among my favourites was an elderly lady that continuously complained about the excessive noise in the hallway. I don’t blame her, but how often are you neighbours with a member of the Beatles? Another staff also noted how Lennon apologized to him upon arrival after taking the wrong entrance to the hotel. Can you imagine that? Lennon deviated from the plan. How cheeky of him!
Whether or not you’re a Beatles fan, the influence of both John Lennon and Yoko Ono must have touched you at some point in your life. If there’s a message I’d like you to take from this post, it would be to GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.
Many thanks and credit to Joanne Papineau and the staff at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth for providing us with exceptional hospitality and service. Our first visit to Montréal was a truly remarkable and unforgettable one. We cannot wait to return! Merci beaucoup, à bientôt!
Click the play button below to listen to the famous track!