The best Beatles in Toronto walking tour
Toronto might not be the first place you think of when it comes to Beatles history, but our city has a number of connections to the Fab Four. It was the first place ever where a Beatle played without his brothers, and where John and Yoko began their North American Bed-In for Peace initiative (before moving on to Montreal). As well, the Queen City is the only place other than New York where all four band members have played solo shows. Follow along on this Fab Four Toronto walking tour to learn about some of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s most significant local sites.
This tour takes about an hour if you do it all in one go, but it meanders through many of the city’s most impressive areas—so we encourage you to take your time, grab a coffee or lunch, and explore anything that looks interesting along the way!
Stop 1: Scotiabank Place (40 Bay St.)
One of the newer Beatles attractions on this Toronto walking tour is the city’s hockey and basketball arena where Paul McCartney played his most recent local show. In 2015, the then-73-year-old performer churned out an incredible 41 songs for his fans—when most headline artists do just 18 to 25 tunes in a night. As concertgoers noted afterwards, he didn’t take even one sip of water through the entire set! Besides playing many Beatles and Wings hits, he paid tribute to George and John, respectively, with “Something” and “Here Today”, the latter of which he wrote after Lennon’s assassination as the conversation he wished they’d had.
Proving he knows how to remain current, McCartney powered through his then-radio hit “FourFiveSeconds”, a collaboration with pop stars Rihanna and Kanye West. The show ended with a rousing sing-along of “Hey Jude”, and it was clear that even decades after Beatlemania, Torontonians still know and adore their music.
Stop 2: Omni King Edward Hotel (37 King St. East)
Would you like to stay in not only the same hotel, but the same room as the Beatles? You’d think the guys would each have had separate rooms on their 1960s tours—but at least in Toronto, that wasn’t the case! They stayed together in the Omni King Edward’s multi-room Royal Suite, with Paul and George in one of its two bedrooms and John and Ringo in the other. Talk about an epic sleepover!
The Omni King Edward is the only hotel in Canada where the Beatles ever spent the night, doing so on all three North American tours. The first tour caused the biggest stir, as 3,000 fans nearly overwhelmed security as they tried to catch a glimpse of the superstars. Imagine thousands of teenagers literally hanging from the lampposts outside and pounding the hoods and roofs of the motorcade as the group made their way into the lobby. When Paul got separated from his bandmates by fans, a burly police officer picked him up and carried him into the hotel. Most impressively, a fourteen-year-old managed to sneak into the suite before they arrived, only to be discovered in a closet. To avoid the crowds out front for the show the next day, police set up a ruse whereby limos waited in front while the guys snuck out the alleyway entrance into an armoured police wagon for the ride to the concert venue.
The hotel was back in Beatles news in 1969 when John and Yoko spent the night enroute to Montreal for their North American Bed-In for Peace. Want to learn more about their stay? Join us on our Downtown / Old Town Toronto walking tour to find out about the ingenious teenager who managed to convince Lennon to give him a one-on-one interview.
A recent hotel renovation added a new Royal Suite, so if you want to sleep where the Beatles slept, request Room 869.
Stop 3: Massey Hall (178 Victoria St.)—a must-see on any Toronto walking tour!
Your next stop is Ringo’s favourite local haunt, having played here in 2015 and again in 2022 alongside his cleverly-named All-Starr Band. This building is a stop on many a Toronto walking tour, as it’s a beautiful historic concert hall with an impressive list of celebrities both past (lecturer Winston Churchill and singer Luciano Pavarotti) and present (comedian Jerry Seinfeld and pop stars Justin Bieber and Billy Joel) gracing its stage.
For both performances by Ringo’s All-Starr band, the famous Beatles drummer took a turn on the mic alongside the rest of the group, all celebrities in their own right. Ringo sang a number of classics then got behind the drumkit to back former members of bands like Santana and Journey. Both shows ended with “Give Peace a Chance”, a John Lennon hit that—as you will see below—has its own special Toronto history.
Stop 4: Maple Leaf Gardens (50 Carlton St.)
This building has been repurposed as a grocery store today, but for decades was the Toronto Maples Leafs’ hockey arena and a venue for countless concerts. It’s the only place in Toronto where the Beatles played as a group, in 1964, 1965, and 1966; and was where George Harrison performed with Ravi Shankar in 1974.
In 1964 Toronto was, like so much of the world, consumed with Beatlemania. On September 7th, 850 police officers cordoned off Maple Leaf Gardens for two blocks in every direction in advance of the Beatles’ performance. Remember the police wagon mentioned at the Omni King Edward hotel? Police deployed a dozen decoys to pull up at the Gardens in order to distract the crowd.
The group played twice that day, first at 5:30 then again just before 10:00. After four opening acts, the emcee strolled out and uttered just two words—the Beatles!—as tens of thousands of people went berserk. One of the police officers guarding the group in front of the stage described the pandemonium as something out of Dante’s Inferno. Many fans later admitted they couldn’t actually hear the band’s twelve-song set, as the screaming was just that loud.
The Beatles were back in 1965 and scheduled to play just one show; however, infamous Maple Leaf Gardens owner Harold Ballard saw an opportunity to make a few extra bucks and sold tickets to both an afternoon and evening concert without telling anyone on the Beatles’ production crew. Literally just hours before the first show he informed the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, that he wanted the group to go on twice. When Epstein balked at the brazen request, Ballard dared him to go onstage and tell 18,000 fans they wouldn’t see their idols. Epstein didn’t want to risk the bad press and the four lads apparently had no issue playing another set, so Ballard got his extra show.
Your last stop on this Beatles in Toronto walking tour is about thirty minutes away, but there’s much to see along the way including the provincial legislative building (called Queen’s Park), the Royal Ontario Museum, and the beautiful University of Toronto campus—so take your time and enjoy everything our city has to offer!
Stop 5: Varsity Stadium (299 Bloor St. West)
This stadium has the notorious distinction of being the site of the concert that broke up the Beatles—even though only one of them, John Lennon, ever played here. The story starts with a guy named John Brower, who in 1969 decided to put on a day-long concert at Varsity Stadium. The theme of the show was 1950s rock revival, and Brower booked a bunch of classic rockers like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry.
Just one problem…the festival was selling terribly. So with tens of thousands of dollars on the line, Brower asks John Lennon—who adored ‘50s rock and roll—to join the lineup. Keen to get onstage to promote peace, Lennon agrees, and it’s the first time any of the Fab Four perform solo. The event sells out, John plays “Give Peace a Chance” live for the first time, and returns to London a changed man. The Beatles at that point weren’t getting along, but Lennon had been nervous about leaving the group and striking out on his own. The show in Toronto showed him he could successfully perform without Paul, George, and Ringo. When he got home he called the guys together and suggested they go their separate ways, and they agreed. The greatest band in history never performed together again.
Want to know more about Lennon’s first solo performance? Join us on our Yorkville / Kensington Market Toronto walking tour to learn how he managed to pull together a backing band in less than 24 hours for the Varsity Stadium concert.
Thank you for joining our Beatles in Toronto walking tour!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Beatles in Toronto walking tour, and have had a chance to explore some of our fascinating ‘60s musical history. Please check out this blog for more of the stories from Canada’s largest city that have shaped the world as we know it today!