Elvis Crossing The Border

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By Don Graham

On January 8th this year Elvis Presley would have turned seventy five ! The King of Rock n’ Roll, three quarters of a century old. Sounds hard to imagine doesn’t it? Well it does to me, but maybe that’s because I remember seeing him on a black and white 17 inch screen on the Dorsey Brothers television show, before the famous Ed Sullivan performances. We were just kids looking for something different to listen to than our parents favourites, Johnny Ray, Frankie Laine and Julius Larosa to name a few. We wanted something to call our own, and this young, duck tailed, sideburned, gyrating rebel from the south seemed to be the ticket. In no time at all, we were all growing our hair long, using Brylcreem, buying 45’s and walking with a new found swagger. Our folks couldn’t understand a word he said and yet every word he sang spoke right to us! Something to call our own!!

When Elvis passed on in 1977, a little bit of our youth and bravado went with him, even if the “Jumpsuit Vegas Elvis” wasn’t the symbol that took us through our teenage years, he was still an important part of our lives. Since his passing, volumes have been written about Elvis’ life, death and all the events in between. There are however a few things, that although written about, are not part of the well known fact base.

Elvis only left the United States to tour twice in his career; rumours of his manager Colonel Tom Parker, a Dutch immigrant, having visa problems, are suggested as the reason. Both times Elvis came to Canada ! In April of 1957, the third through the fifth to be exact, Elvis played dates in Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario. This was part of a tour that included Chicago, Detroit and the night before Toronto, in Buffalo New York. The second trip to Canada was in August of that year when he played in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Toronto dates at the famous Maple Leaf Gardens, are significant for a few reasons. It would the last place Elvis would wear his gold lame Nudie suit in its entirety. He would keep wearing the jacket and sometimes the shoes, but he ripped the pants during his performance in Toronto. It was also the largest crowd Elvis had ever played to; two shows, one at 6 PM and a second at 9 PM, drew crowds of 8,000 and 15,000 respectively making the 23,000 total the biggest audience Elvis had faced. All of this in Canada. Tickets ranged in price from $1.25 to $3.50. The Colonel said the reason for coming to Canada was Elvis’ huge fan base. A petition of over 2,500 hundred names requesting Elvis come to Toronto was circulated and Parker said that Elvis received over 45,000 Christmas cards from the Toronto area in 1956.

Elvis didn’t disappoint the large crowd giving them Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel, Long Tall Sally and even a version of Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill.

After the last show in Toronto, Elvis jumped on a train and headed to Ottawa where he played the old Ottawa Auditorium to sold old crowds. In August of 1957 Elvis returned to Canada to play at Empire Stadium in Vancouver., British Columbia. He was promoting his soon to be released movie and new single Jailhouse Rock.

Ironically, twenty years later in August of 1977, Elvis would cross another border and leave this earth to go to his great reward.

Canada will always remember the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley and be proud to say that the only other country he performed in outside of the United States was here, the true north, strong and free!!!

The official website for Elvis Presley: Elvis.com

Editors Note: Don Graham is currently releasing his new CD ‘A Willing Heart” that has a song entitled “Play Like Scotty” dedicated to Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore.