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John Lennon was the world's biggest rock star in the late Sixties. With his new wife Yoko Ono, the duo were icons of the peace movement denouncing the Vietnam War. In 1969, at the height of their popularity, they headed to Canada.
Canada was already a politically charged place. In 1968, Pierre Elliott Trudeau rode a wave of popularity dubbed Trudeaumania for its similarities to the Beatlemania of the era. The sexual revolution, hippie culture, the New Left and the peace movement were challenging norms, frightening the authorities and provoking backlash. Quebec nationalism was putting the power of the English-speaking minority running the province on the defensive, and threatening the breakup of the country.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a "bed-in for peace" at an upscale downtown Montreal hotel. The couple, aided by the CBC, saw a steady stream of journalists, musicians and activists arriving for interviews, political discussions, singing and art-making. The classic "Give Peace A Chance" was recorded there with the help of local Quebecois musicians.
Three months later they were back in Canada with Eric Clapton and other friends to play a concert festival in Toronto arranged by local promoters. American acts like Little Richard, The Doors, Bo Diddley and Alice Cooper, along with many Canadian pop musicians of the time, played at the festival.
At year's end, the duo met with Prime Minister Trudeau in Ottawa. By this time Trudeau was cracking down on dissent, mainly in Quebec, and falling out of favour with the counterculture crowd, John and Yoko included.
Recounting the story of these events, historian Greg Marquis offers a unique portrayal of Canadian society in the late Sixties, recounting how politicians, activists, police, artists, musicians and businesses across Canada reacted to John and Yoko's presence and message.
John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Year Canada Was Cool is an illuminating and entertaining read for anyone interested in this fascinating moment in Canadian history.