Throughout the fifties and into the swinging sixties, Toronto attracted many international artists. While Bob Dylan searched for his backup band at Friar’s Tavern (explored in our previous article), four mop-headed young men would come together, fly over the Atlantic, and bring a tidal wave of Beatlemania with them.
Piers Hemmingsen explores what he refers to as “Toronto’s Love Affair,” in his book “The Beatles in Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania.” In fact, the story of The Beatles coincides with a huge social change that was underway in Toronto. The sixties mark the first appearance of tall skyscrapers (TD Tower), innovations in transportation with underground subways, and an explosion of culture, particularly the music scene, as the baby boomers transitioned into adolescence.
One of the most important revelations in this text is how Canadian fans embraced The Beatles before they reached American audiences in February of 1964. Hemmingsen makes a point of distinguishing between Beatlemania in North America a whole, and Beatlemania specifically in Canada. Canada boasts the largest Beatles fan club in North America. According to Hemmingson’s research and timeline, The Beatles “invaded” Canada in 1963, just as their single “She Loves You” was topping the Canadian charts.
There were many factors at play, all contributing to the marketing of The Beatles’ image in Canada. Rock n’ Roll set the scene, while individual radio stations primed listeners with this music before fully promoting The Beatles’ singles. Some even put their careers on the line, as Paul White did (Capitol of Canada), in order to get the music of The Beatles out there.
Yet, the spread of Beatlemania wasn’t always so dramatic. In some cases, young fans that came over to North America from England simply brought their Beatles records with them. They would share this “new” music with their friends, and through this grassroots method, Beatlemania began to spread.
The cornerstone of The Beatles in Canada was their concert venue, Maple Leaf Gardens. Between their first show in 1964 and 1966, The Beatles performed six shows at the venue, making it host to the most Beatles concerts at the same venue in North America. For every performance, the band arrived in a police paddy wagon, often using the rear entrance of the venue to avoid the throngs of fans.
Undeterred, fans camped outside their hotel, the King Edward Hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of their pop idols. The King Edward has the honour of being the only hotel in Canada to receive The Beatles, all three years they visited. Fans soon figured out that they were staying in Suite 869, at one point they discovered a fourteen-year-old girl hiding in a linen closet.
As a result, the band had to take extra security precautions. Whenever they left the hotel, they were smuggled out through the delivery entrance on Colborne Street, again in a police paddy wagon.
This level of hysterical adoration was unprecedented before the arrival of The Beatles in 1964. One account claims that an overzealous fan ripped Paul McCartney’s t-shirt between their arrival at the airport and the drive to the hotel. Some fans were so overcome with emotion that they lost consciousness, with 36 fainting at the airport and 55 fainting outside the hotel.
In other words, as soon as these four mop-headed Brits set foot in Toronto, they created a frenzy unlike anything Canada had ever seen before, and most likely will ever see again.
If you’d like to learn more, consider joining Heritage Toronto for their walking tour “Beatlemania: Toronto’s Love Affair” led by Piers Hemmingsen himself, on September 28 at 6:30PM.