Despite being one of the world’s biggest superstars, Elvis never toured internationally, nor did he play shows outside of the US. But in 1957, he made his first and last exception to this rule, when he crossed the border to make two stops, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa.
Elvis was 22 years old when he came to Ottawa on April 3rd, 1957.
In a pre-concert interview, Elvis graciously explained his appearance in the nation’s capital. “I’ve gotten more mail from this area than any other place,” the spit-curled twenty-two-year-old offered, enjoying a cheese sandwich and a carton of milk. “That’s one of the reasons why I’ve always wanted to come up here.”
While The King opted for his iconic gold-leaf suit at his first Canadian stop, Toronto, he played it a little cooler in Ottawa, retaining only the jacket (cost: $400), belt, and shoes from that glittery get-up. An estimated 9,000 screaming fans packed both his matinee and evening sets at the Ottawa Auditorium, which is now the Taggart Family YMCA. Among the crowds was an enthusiastic contingent from Montreal, who had taken a train nicknamed “the rock’n’roll cannonball.”
Elvis not only shook up the crowd, but he also shook up the Ottawa Separate School Board. Like similar organizations in the States, it had established a petition encouraging parents to keep their kids away from Elvis’ performances, deemed scandalous at the time. Countered Elvis in his humble drawl, “I certainly don’t mean to be vulgar or suggestive…that’s just my way of performing a song. If you have to put on a show for people, you can’t stand there like a statue.” And indeed he didn’t, kicking off each show with a raucous rendition of his latest million-seller All Shook Up.
After a subsequent stop in Philadelphia, Elvis headed back home to Memphis to finalize the purchase of his first-ever piece of real estate: a property the Gospel music aficionado reverently called Graceland.
But Ottawa never forgot the late singer’s special regard for the city. In 1991, city council sanctioned a motion by Elvis’ lingering fan base, still in denial over his death in 1977, to name a street in his honour: Elvis Lives Lane.