Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Bed-in for Peace
It was a legendary event that created an art film, a hit song and made a 17th-floor suite at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal one of the world’s most famous hotel rooms. While the Vietnam War continued in May 1969, on the other side of the world, the famous Beatles’ musician John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, reinvented the 1960s “sit-in” style of peaceful protest.
The Bed-in for Peace began when the couple checked in at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth on May 26, 1969. Over the next seven days, they occupied four connecting rooms on the 17th floor and welcomed media and celebrity friends, from writers Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg to comedians Tommy Smothers and Dick Gregory. Many of the visitors sang on the anthemic song, “Give Peace a Chance,” recorded in the suite on June 1, 1969. Yoko Ono eventually released a film, Bed Peace, about their stay.
Fifty years later, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Bed-in for Peace from May 25 until October 9th, John Lennon’s birthday. There are fresh opportunities to learn about the historic event, experience the completely renovated hotel as it is today, and support peace-promoting work through a partnership with the French-Canadian chapter of Amnesty International.
The Bed-in for Peace Package in the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite offers a chance to stay where the famous couple did. Rooms were reimagined as one groovy 1960s-inspired suite during a massive 2017 renovation. It’s full of unexpected multimedia touch points to the bed-in, from archival surprises tucked into a wall of cabinets, a vintage phone and television airing snippets of history and even a guitar.
“The 2017 design was not reproducing the room from back then,” says Joanne Papineau, the regional director, public relations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Eastern Canada, a passionate curator for the hotel’s bed-in legacy. “It’s more inspired by the era, their life, and their work promoting peace.” For instance, there are gorgeous blue walls because Yoko means “daughter of the ocean” in Japanese. “We have John’s favourite books in the room,” Papineau says, “including Alice in Wonderland and volumes by Edgar Allan Poe.”
As part of the package, guests are welcomed with white flowers and simple white pajamas, similar to those the couple wore, along with a unique commemorative piece, a souvenir booklet, and an artful set of “Give Peace a Chance” song lyrics. You can even eat the same Japanese-British breakfast-for-two Lennon and Ono ordered! The CAD $2,999 a night package includes a donation to the local Amnesty International chapter.
A Door to Peace
Over the years, many fans and hotel guests have wandered the 17th-floor hallway leading to the John Lennon and Yoko Ono suite—even stealing the simple plaque marking the hotel-room door! In the lead-up to the 50th anniversary, the door and hallway have been completely refurbished, with vintage photos telling the story of the Bed-in for Peace.
“As the door of the suite is the most photographed in the hotel, we wanted it to have more impact and a tribute to what John and Yoko were trying to communicate,” says Papineau. “People going there to take a selfie can now feel like they were at the bed-in,” she says.
On May 25, 2019, guests are invited to an open house and can book guided tours exploring the bed-in’s rich heritage at the hotel. A donation of CAD $19.69 to Amnesty International will confirm your booking, because as Papineau says, “We also want people to remember ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was composed and recorded in the suite, and that song has become an international peace anthem.”
Visiting or staying in the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite are not the only way to relive the Bed-In for Peace. In fact, “When you walk in the hotel, you will definitely know this is happening,” says Papineau, starting with a white Rolls-Royce on display until June 2nd, similar to John Lennon’s 1960s model. “In the lobby, guests can read the whole story,” says Papineau, through photos, archival material and a peace display that touches virtually every corner of the space. In addition, every guest at the hotel from May 26 through October 9th will receive a commemorative magnetic room key.
The popular and artful existing multimedia projection about the bed-in by Cité Mémoire and Montréal en Histoires, which normally plays year-round in The Agora area of the lobby, will run more frequently during the week of May 26, 2019, starting every 30 minutes.
Helping bring the anniversary week full circle, a Bed-in Concert at the hotel on May 30th, in partnership with Amnesty International, will feature stellar DJs and musical talent.
Other Ways to Celebrate in Montreal this Summer
While visiting Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth this summer, you can take your own self-guided Bed-In for Peace tour of Montreal.
Starting on April 25, visit the cutting-edge Old Montreal art centre Fondation Phi, which hosts Growing Freedom running through September 15, 2019. The art centre describes the exhibition as “The instructions of Yoko Ono” (Ono artworks that encourage visitor participation) and “The art of John and Yoko” (collaborative art projects by the couple).
Walk up to Montreal’s Parc Mont-Royal to view the public art installation, “Give Peace a Chance,” by Linda Covit and landscape architect Marie-Claude Séguin. To anyone who’s seen the John Lennon-inspired Strawberry Fields in Central Park in New York (like Mont-Royal, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted), the ground-level, organically integrated public artwork seems right at home.
Finally, stop in at Musée Grévin to see wax figures of John Lennon and Yoko Ono styled according to the bed-in era. And keep an eye out for more events and hotel celebrations to be announced. “We have so many partners, and so many people want to join in the celebrations,” says Papineau.
Charlene Rooke is a Vancouver, Canada-based food, drinks and travel journalist who was born the day before newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono checked into Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal.