Here’s a trivia question: Where was the first place the Beatles set foot in Canada? Answer: Winnipeg International Airport, at 2:05 PM, Tuesday, August18, 1964. It was only for 22 minutes but enough time to make history.
Although intended as a routine refueling stop, word leaked out that the Beatles were onboard a flight from London to Los Angeles that day. “Around noon I got a call from the public relations director for Air Canada who was a good friend of mine,” recalls CJAY TV personality Bob Burns, host of popular Teen Dance Party. “‘Get out to the airport for the interview of your life,’ he told me.”
By the time Burns arrived radio stations CKY and CKRC had announced the imminent arrival of the Fab Four and hundreds of teenagers descended on the airport. Traffic was blocked and the parking lot jammed. “We want the Beatles,” the predominantly female crowd, by now numbering a thousand, chanted. As the Pan American Lockheed Elektra, dubbed “Jet Clipper Beatles,” taxied to a halt they unleashed a deafening roar.
With no plans to disembark on what was merely a twenty-minute stopover, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, noticing the pandemonium on the observation deck, prevailed upon his charges to make a brief appearance. They emerged from the plane waving to the hysterical throng.
“Hello Winnipeg!” shouted a beaming Paul McCartney, first down the stairs. A gang of reporters quickly swarmed in, microphones thrust in his face. “It’s a luverly welcome,” McCartney chirped. Among the rabble was Burns who, after exchanging pleasantries with McCartney, managed to snag John Lennon. “Bob Burns from CJAY Television.” “That’s not my fault,” snapped the cheeky Beatle. Undaunted, Burns pressed on. “You must be glad to stretch your legs.” “Amongst other things,” quipped Lennon.
“He had a smart-aleck answer for everything,” Burns later recalled. He takes pride in being the first Canadian television reporter to interview the famed Liverpudlians. Burns found Ringo Starr the most gregarious. “He seemed more mature than the others,” he noted.
Minutes later, waving one last time, the four ducked inside the plane. But not before Ringo suggested that the group might return to Winnipeg following their North American tour.
Among the mob of squealing teens jostling for sight of their heroes was 14-year-old Diane Clear. “Oh, I wish they had stayed longer,” she gushed to a reporter. “They are so cute.” CKRC receptionist Sharon McRae was fortunate to shake hands with George Harrison and receive a kiss on the hand from Ringo. She was later besieged by a horde of Beatlemaniacs.-JOHN EINARSON 2011
Seventeen-year-old Silver Heights Collegiate student Bruce Decker, a member of The Deverons, was on his way to the beach when he and his friends made a hasty detour upon hearing the news on the radio. “We couldn’t see anything from the observation platform so we sneaked down to the ramp,” Decker related years later. “It was fascinating to see the Beatles in person here in Winnipeg.”
Seizing the moment, he dashed across the runway, some twenty-five yards, to the stairs of the plane. “Quick thinking, that’s all it was,” reflected Decker. “I just figured I could make it up those steps and I no sooner thought of it and I was gone. The crowd roared when they saw me go. I got right up the stairs before the Mounties grabbed me.”
His impulsive move amused the Beatles. “Just as they were wrestling with me I caught a glimpse of the Beatles through the door and they were chuckling.” Released by authorities, Decker became the object of instant adulation. “Kids crowded around me, touching me and screaming. Tears were streaming down their faces as they asked me: ‘What do they look like? Did they say anything?’ The girls thought there was some kind of magic about me just because I’d got so close to them.”
Dozens of dazed teens remained behind after the plane was long gone. “It was a little embarrassing having to tell kids to stop kissing the runway,” commented RCMP Sgt. E. G. Varndell. Others sat on the grass weeping. “We’ve never seen anything like this before and I hope we won’t see it again.”