Seven rare vintage photos from the Beatles’ Toronto concerts
In 1964, the year of the Beatles’ first Toronto concert, the band was playing the peppy ’60s pop of A Hard Day’s Night. By their last local gig, just two years later, they’d evolved to the stranger, more psychedelic sounds of Revolver. Toronto had changed, too: it had a new City Hall, a second subway line, freshly built expressways and all matter of upward and outward growth.
This year, Wayne Reeves, Toronto’s chief curator of museums and heritage services, set out to mark the 50th anniversary of that final show. He didn’t want to just tell the story of a band; he wanted to throw back to the spirit of the city when it last hosted the Fab Four. He asked three photographers—Boris Spremo, John Rowlands and Lynn Ball—to dive into their personal archives, and he combed through thousands of negatives in search of never-seen images. The resulting exhibit, When the Beatles Rocked Toronto (on now through Nov. 12 at the Market Gallery), features three rooms of pictures, posters and other memorabilia. We asked Reeves to share the stories behind some of the shots he unearthed.
“Photographer Lynn Ball worked out of Ottawa, so he captured a lot of Canada’s political life. I love how Lynn turns his back to the band to show that Beatlemania is about the interaction between the fans and the musicians, to capture that youthful exuberance and sheer joy. Coming down from the suburbs and being part of an incredible scene—that’s really what Beatlemania was all about.”
“Boris Spremo is without a doubt one of the greatest Canadian photojournalists of all time, whether he’s in conflict zones or at concerts. We’re displaying one of the cameras Spremo he used to shoot the Beatles. He took this shot, and another that captures a metro police constable with bullets in his ears—deafened by the screaming fans that the Beatles saw at the airport, the King Eddie Hotel and Maple Leaf Gardens.”
“Perhaps it was fatigue or just getting older, but the fans changed between the first and last concerts. A teenager named Trudy Metcalf was the head of the Ontario chapter of the Beatles fan club, the largest in North America. She was 14 when she set up the fan club in 1963. By ’66, it was all over for her—she was moving on to other sounds and interests. At the same time, for the Beatles, being mobbed by fans was no longer as interesting as creating brand new sounds in the studio.”
“Typically, the day before their show, the Beatles would do their thing with a press room. It really seizes that sense of excitement—radio stations and print media showing up to capture the band.”
“With dozens of reporters and photographers clamouring for the band’s attention, most press conference shots have the members looking in various directions. Here, George Harrison made eye contact with photographer John Rowlands. I got to know him around the time David Bowie died. Bowie’s favourite concert shot was, in fact, taken by Rowlands at Maple Leaf Gardens. It’s known as The Archer. It’s a testament to a photographer who got deep into the action of the rock world in North America and Europe.”
“Sixty-six was a hard year for the Beatles. John Lennon made the comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and their records were being burned by Christians. Fans and critics had a hard time coming to terms with the new sounds on Revolver. They had a disastrous tour of Asia. Their shows weren’t selling out anywhere in North America, including Toronto. As a result, Maple Leaf Gardens Limited actually had to produce posters to advertise the concerts, something they didn’t have to do in ’64 and ’65. In the end, they didn’t even sell out their final shows. We have one of only two posters known to survive from the 1966 Toronto concert, which you can spot in the background of this group shot.”