'The epicentre of Beatlemania': The Beatles played their final show in Toronto 50 years ago today

Beatlemania swept North America in the mid-'60s. But before they were a big deal in the U.S., the Beatles were first embraced in Toronto.

Just 12 days later, the band announced they would stop touring

From left, John Lennon, George Harrison, Michele Finney, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in Toronto 1964, during the band's first visit to Toronto. (CBC)

On Aug. 17, 1966, the Beatles rocked and bopped in Toronto. Though nobody in the crowd knew it at the time, it would be their last chance to see the superstar band: 12 days later, the Beatles announced they would no longer be touring together. 

Fifty years later, the memories remain fresh. 

Michele Finney was at that final Toronto show. ​"In your life, there are certain times when you never forget the day, you never forget what you wore, you never forget how you felt at the time," she told CBC News. "That was one of those days."

"Toronto was the epicentre of Beatlemania," says Jane French, a museum curator with the city of Toronto who is helping organize celebrations marking the anniversary, including an exhibit called When the Beatles Rocked Toronto, on now at the gallery in St. Lawrence Market.

"A lot of it can come down to one man," she says. In the case of Toronto's love affair with the Beatles, French goes on, it was "Paul White, a young British journalist who came to Toronto in the late '50s." 

'It was a 1st for all of us'

When White arrived in Toronto he couldn't get a job at a newspaper, French told CBC News, but he did land a gig with Capitol Records on Queen Street East, where he was asked to write sizzle sheets that were distributed to more than 800 radio stations in Canada.

"They were like weekly press releases promoting mostly imported music from Europe."

Museum curator Jane French at an exhibit dedicated to the Beatles now on display at St. Lawrence Market. She calls Toronto the epicentre of Beatlemania. (CBC)

French credits White's promotion of one song in particular — She Loves You — for helping launch Beatlemania across North America.

"It took off in Canada six months before the [United] States, largely due to Paul White and his ear for something in the Beatles that was new and fresh and relevant to a younger audience."

​"It was a first for all of us," Finney says. "This freedom, this vibrance, this expression of our enthusiasm about music and they were the Beatles. You know, it didn't get any better than that."

Leaving an impression

The Beatles played their first concert in Toronto in September 1964. Finney was 14, and the host of a children's television show on CBC called Razzle Dazzle. The teenager landed an interview with the band, and called it the biggest one of her life. 

"They're absolutely marvellous," she said afterwards in 1964, adding that Torontonians showed "a lot of enthusiasm."

Finney credits her experience in front of the camera with allowing her to stay calm together during the interview. Deep down, she says, she was screaming and yelling "as crazy as all the other girls in there."

And despite all their success, she said the foursome treated her like a peer.

Michele Finney got a rare opportunity to interview the Beatles in 1964, when she was just 14. (CBC)

The former TV host admits she didn't realize how great an impact the Beatles would have. 

"I don't think any of us had any idea that this music would become such a statement in our lives and change so many things about our musical desires in the future," she says. 

"I mean, how many guys picked up guitars because of the Beatles?"

With files from Marivel Taruc


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