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La Verendrye to Lennon

Portage pioneer museum hosts exhibit of John and Yoko's bed-in

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Curator Tracey Turner examines one of the many photos on display. It is the only staging of the Give Peace a Chance exhibit in Canada this year.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Curator Tracey Turner examines one of the many photos on display. It is the only staging of the Give Peace a Chance exhibit in Canada this year. Photo Store

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- What is a photo exhibit marking the 45th anniversary of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono "bed-in for peace" doing in Portage la Prairie?

All they are saying is give Fort La Reine Museum a chance.

The often-overlooked museum and pioneer village is hoping to turn some heads -- and some cars that speed by on the Trans-Canada Highway -- with the only staging of the Give Peace a Chance exhibit in Canada this year.

It couldn't be a stranger combination.

The former Beatle, Lennon, was a legendary rock musician and peace activist. Meanwhile, the museum cultivates a pioneer theme. It includes a replica of the La Verendrye fort that existed near here (but not for long: Cree band members burned it down in 1752) and a pioneer village. The complex is on a scale with the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach and the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin.

So how does curator Tracey Turner justify to patrons, and her board of directors, bringing in an exhibit so far outside that sphere?

"They were pioneers in terms of peaceful activism," Turner said, of Lennon and Ono.

"I think (the bed-in) was a super-important event. It was a time when 200 to 300 people a week were coming back to the U.S. in body bags," Turner continued. "John and Yoko wanted to contribute a bit of their celebrity to ending the war in a peaceful way."

It was also a time, 1969, when people were old enough to be drafted into combat -- 18 -- but not old enough to vote. The lowering of the voting age to 18 from 21 didn't transpire until 1972.

Walking through the museum, with its 30-odd pioneer buildings, including the home of former Manitoba premier Douglas Campbell, is like some weird celebrity seance. Perhaps that can be said of most museums, but the principals here seem so unrelated. There's Lennon... and former premier Campbell. There's La Verendrye, then there's railway baron William Van Horne -- the museum owns the CPR general manager's personal coach car -- who spearheaded construction of the transcontinental railroad to the Pacific Ocean.

The bed-in wasn't advocating everyone just stay in bed and there would be no more war. Lennon and Ono were really staging an especially long and dragged out news conference in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Room 1742.

"They were inviting the media to come to them. The bed-in was a stage. And the greatest peace anthem known was written," Turner said. Lennon wrote his famous Give Peace a Chance and recorded it with the likes of Tommy Smothers and Timothy Leary on background vocals, with a group of Hare Krishna drummers -- all in a hotel room.

The photos were shot by Life magazine photographer Gerry Deiter but never published. Deiter had access to the hotel room the entire eight days, longer than any other media person.

But the magazine decided not to publish his work. Turner maintains the photos were spiked for political reasons. Lennon was the first famous rock musician to speak out against the Vietnam war.

A groundswell of peace activism would eventually develop and pressure the American government into pulling out of Vietnam.

The bed-in was also just a few months after the couple had married. "When you see these photos, you realize John and Yoko were really deeply in love," Turned said. Immediately following the bed-in, Lennon went on his The War is Over tour, which became the first musical tour by a Beatle after the band split.

Turner said some people feel emotional when they see the photos. An average stay in the Peace exhibit is nearly 45 minutes, she maintained.

It includes about 40 photos, plus some drawings and other displays and plenty of text and news clippings. A CBC documentary on the bed-in also airs in the exhibit room, called Give Peace a Song. A much younger Justin Trudeau makes a cameo as a spokesman for Amnesty International.

The exhibit runs until Sept. 20, and the museum until Sept. 30, but is open by appointment only after Labour Day. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children over four years. It's open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30pm and Sunday noon to 5:30 p.m.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2014 A15

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