John and Yoko’s iconic Montréal bed-in turns 50

Montréal’s famed Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel is commemorating the 50th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s historic Bed-In for Peace held at the hotel in 1969. The Bed-In became a global symbolic moment during the peace movement at the height of the Vietnam War.

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Give peace a chance

Lennon and Ono had booked into Rooms 1738, 1740, 1742 and 1744 for seven days starting on May 26, 1969. Those four connecting rooms have now been transformed into the mythical Suite 1742 at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, which reopened in July 2017 after a $140-million renovation.

It is here on June 1, 1969, that John and Yoko recorded their anti-war anthem “Give Peace a Chance” with such famous guests as Dr. Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Smothers and Dick Gregory.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Bed-In, the “Queen E” – as the hotel is affectionately called by locals – is hosting a series of special events.

Here are some highlights visitors can enjoy during this commemorative year.

The story behind the story

A special exhibition of photographs by the late Brooklyn-born photographer Gerry Deiter – who chronicled the Manhattan music and fashion scenes for the Village Voice and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s – today is best-known for his photos of the Montréal Bed-In. On assignment for Life Magazine, Deiter was the only photojournalist to cover the whole event but, incredibly, Life did not publish the photos because the story was bumped by the death of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. So the photos went unseen for more than three decades.

Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Deiter unearthed the now-famous photos, which are remarkable for their intimacy with their subjects, mainly because John and Yoko trusted Deiter, who had befriended Ono years earlier in New York. In this exhibition, Deiter’s photos and testimonials from Bed-in participants are taken from the book Give Peace a Chance: John and Yoko's Bed-In for Peace, compiled by Joan Athey. This free exhibition runs at the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth hotel from May 25 to October 9 (which also would have been John Lennon’s 79th birthday).

Every picture tells a story

Author Joan Athey will sign copies of her critically acclaimed book Give Peace a Chance: John and Yoko's Bed-In for Peace in the Marché Artisans in the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth hotel lobby on May 26 from 11 am to 3 pm, and from May 27 to 31 from 3 to 5 pm.

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All-star Bed-In 50th anniversary concert

A Bed-In commemorative concert benefitting Amnistie Internationale Canada Francophone will be held in Espace C2, the stunning hall on the top floor of the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, on May 30 at 7 pm. In addition to DJs Geneviève Borne – spokesperson for the 50th anniversary celebrations – and Ève Salvail, performers include Lulu Hughes, Jonas Tomalty and Kevin Parent, as well as Joël Denis, who was present at the Bed-In in 1969. Tickets are $69.

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Guided tours of John and Yoko’s fabled suite

On May 25 from 11 am to 4 pm, the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth is organizing guided tours of John and Yoko’s suite. Visitors will also meet author Joan Athey. The cost of the visit is $19.69, which will be donated to Amnistie Internationale Canada Francophone.

Cité Mémoire’s Bed-In projection

The Bed-In projection from Cité Mémoire – one of the largest video-projection installations in the world – will be presented in the Agora, located in the lobby of the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, every 30 minutes from May 26 to June 2. Created by internationally-acclaimed duo Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, who have created large-scale productions for Cirque du Soleil, in collaboration with famed playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, this historical tableau with soundtrack will take viewers back in time to the Montréal Bed-In and the war-protest movement of the late ‘60s.

Peace and love party

The Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth’s Nacarat bar will celebrate peace and love on May 25 beginning at 10 pm. Guests are invited to wear their finest hippie outfits and embrace the peace movement while dancing to the beats of DJ Jojo Flores. For every sale of Nacarat’s Yoko Fresh cocktail, $3 will be donated to Amnistie Internationale Canada Francophone.

50th anniversary Bed-In package

Visitors can book their own Bed-In experience at the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth. The unique package includes double occupancy accommodation in Suite 1742 – guests can sleep where John and Yoko did – and all sorts of perks and collector’s items. 

Yoko Ono art exhibition in Montréal

The art of pop icon Yoko Ono is the subject of the hugely popular exhibition LIBERTÉ CONQUÉRANTE/GROWING FREEDOM, which runs to September 15 at the Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain in Old Montréal.

A Japanese-American multimedia artist born in Tokyo in 1933, Ono is a visionary artist who, during the 1950s in Tokyo, questioned the concept of art and the art object. She challenged traditional boundaries of art and has since been associated with conceptual art, performance and Fluxus, an international network of artists and composers founded in the 1960s.

The exhibition also explores Ono’s collaborative projects for peace undertaken with her late husband John Lennon. This part of the exhibition also features stories from people who actually participated in the Montréal Bed-In, told in their own voices and words. Free admission.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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