“All we are saying is give peace a chance.”- John Lennon
That’s the message in Portage LaPrairie at the Fort La Reine Museum as a collection of unseen photos of the famous ‘Bed-in’ are on exhibit until the end of September.
Fort La Reine Museum has a collection of photos of the John Lennon ‘bed-in’ that not many people have ever seen before. Brooklyn born Time-Life photographer Gerry Deiter, who was working in Montreal at the time, was assigned to cover the story. He was the only photographer to be there for the entire eight days (Lennon actually encouraged him to do so).
For some reason or other, his photos were not used by the magazine and Deiter held onto the negatives for all those years.
Flash-forward to Decenber 8, 2005 (the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death) when Deiter was living in Victoria, BC. The Royal British Columbia Museum was holding a tribute to Lennon and asked Deiter to speak a few words about his visit with the Lennons.
Deiter mentioned how he was blessed by the responsibility he felt “to help propagate John Lennon’s message of peace and compassion.” Sadly, Gerry Deiter passed away the very next day.
Shortly before his passing, he emailed his friend (and curator of this show) Joan E. Athey, and mentioned to her what a profound impact that those eight days had on his life.
In her curator’s message, Athey stated that “it has become my mission to finish off the job he (Deiter) started, to inspire others to freely express themselves through art…” So, she sifted through the 500 negatives that her friend had taken during the ‘Bed-in’ and selected over 30 images for this exhibit.
The exhibit also includes replicas of some of the clothes worn by Lennon, a display of guitars and memorabilia, an artist’s (Stephen N. Austin) drawings of some of the photos, and an area simulating room 1742, with a bed which visitors are encouraged to climb on and take photos.
There is also a wish tree (a project started by Yoko Ono), where visitors are asked to write their wish on a paper ‘leaf’ and hang it on a branch of the tree. Lennon’s music is playing in the background and the video ‘John and Yoko – Give Peace A Song’ is playing in one corner of the room.
Athey actually brought the exhibit to many places around the world. The most interesting venue though, was when she brought the exhibit to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal this year on the 45th anniversary of the event.
The message that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were trying to convey to the world 45 years ago when they launched their ‘Bed-In For Peace’ was that, we can have peace if we want it.
The Bed-in started in Amsterdam on March 25, 1969, a week after they were married. Originally they planned to do phase two of the ‘Bed-in’ in New York, but the US was trying to deport him at the time. So, on May 26, 1969, they decided to occupy the 17th floor of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal for eight days. It was in room 1742 where Lennon wrote and recorded the now famous anti-war anthem, ‘Give Peace a Chance.’
John Lennon and Yoko Ono welcomed and talked with many visitors throughout their stay including Tom Smothers (whose TV show was canceled as a result of his speaking out against the war), a group of Hare Krishnas, who were friends of Lennnon, and Timothy Leary.
Yoko Ono actually came up with the title of the song when a group of Vietnam anti-war protestors, who were about to be tear-gassed, spoke to Lennon on the phone and he encouraged them to demonstrate peacefully. He then passed the phone to Ono who said to them, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
This was the amazing chemistry between these two who were so much in love.
Lennon decided to make an impromptu recording of the song in the room and he called record producer, André Perry, shortly after midnight and asked him to do the recording the next day. It’s quite amazing that he made such a great recording in this crude recording space with people drumming on coffee tables, slamming phone books and kicking doors. The Hare Krishnas provided a lot of the actual drumming on the recording.
Yoko Ono, being the avant-garde artist that she was, saw the event as a piece of performance art.
Lennon expressed the opinion that his message was one of humor and said that, the methods used by Martin Luther King and Gandhi made peace too serious and people resented that.
“When you’ve got someone smiling, you’re halfway there,” Lennon once said. Ono added, “We’re saying we’re an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstances who happen to want peace…” And indeed, peace is what they strived for.
In December of 1969, they launched their billboard campaign using “modern methods” where John Lennon and Yoko Ono booked large billboards to “sell peace the way others sell soap”. The simple message was “War Is Over…If you want it…Merry Christmas from John and Yoko”. The billboards showed up in many places around the world including Montreal, New York and Tokyo.
I talked with Tracey Turner, the Executive Director of the Fort La Reine Museum, who is no stranger to unearthing historical artifacts. Turner worked as an archaeologist prior to becoming the manager of the museum four years ago.
She became the Executive Director in the spring of this year and worked on bringing the exhibit to the museum for the last two years. It was a long haul and the show, which opened May 6, was actually delayed for a week after it was held up at the border for longer than usual.
Turner is responsible for adding some nice little touches to the exhibit that weren’t part of the show in other cities. She said, many schools in the surrounding areas have visited the exhibit, adding that it is very popular and attendance is higher this year than last year.
It was nice to see the ‘Give Peace A Chance’ banner outside the museum as I drove into Portage La Prairie.
I spoke with two of the visitors who were clearly enjoying their visit. Robb Paterson and Robert Gordon (both huge Beatles fans) from Winnipeg, were fascinated by the exhibit and said they both learned a few more things about Lennon that they didn’t know about.
Both men were teenaged paperboys delivering newspapers when they saw the headlines of the ‘Bed-in’ and can vividly remember the TV and radio coverage of the event.
Gordon commented how the message is even more relevant today than ever.
Paterson has visited all the Beatles fans’ places of pilgrimage, including the Liverpool tour of the old Beatles places of interest, the Dakota Hotel, Strawberry Fields (in New York) and now Portage La Prairie, smack dab in the middle of Manitoba, Canada.
The exhibit was supposed to end on September 20 but is being held over until September 30.
The Fort La Reine Museum is located at 692 Saskatchewan Avenue East in Portage LaPrairie. Hours are Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The museum also has many other interesting exhibitions, tours and collections, such as the Pioneer Village, and boasts one of the largest collections of vintage farm machinery in the world.
September 19th and 20th, they will be hosting ‘Mystery at the Museum’ with a guided candlelight tour of the museum grounds which provide the setting for a historical play that will leave you spellbound.
For more information on the Fort La Reine Museum visit their website at fortlareinemuseum.com
For more information on curator Joan E. Athey (Peaceworks Now Productions, Victoria, B.C.) go to www.peaceworksnow.com
All photos by Doug Kretchmer