In 1954 during the same summer that Elvis, Scotty and Bill first
recorded together at Sun the British Empire and Commonwealth Games went
to Vancouver, BC and Empire Stadium was built to host it. The
stadium sat 25,000 (10,000 under cover) and had facilities to
accommodate an additional 10,000 standing. The games, initially
called the British Empire Games is a sporting competition among member
nations of the British Empire. Since 1930 when 11 countries sent
400 athletes to take part in 59 events, like the Olympics they have been
held every 4 years in a member country In 1954 24 nations
sent 662 competitors to compete in Vancouver. The stadium during
the games was the site of the historic Miracle Mile - one of the biggest
sport stories of the decade.
On May 6, 1954 at Oxford University Roger Bannister became the first
man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. His time was 3 min 59.4
s. Just 46 days later on June 21 in Turku, Finland, Bannister's
record was broken by his rival John Landy of Australia, with a time of 3
min 57.9 s. On August 7, Bannister, running for England, competed
against Landy for the first time at Empire Stadium. They
were the only two men in the world to have broken the 4-minute barrier.
Bannister won in 3 min 58.8 s, with Landy 0.8 s behind in 3 min 59.6 s.
The CBC televised the British Empire and Commonwealth Games and
controversy raged over the issue of Sunday sports. After the games
were over Empire Stadium became home to the BC Lions football club, the
newest professional team in the Canadian Football League. The
Lions played their first game there on August 28, 1954, they lost.
It was a Saturday. Three years later in 1957, Vancouver residents
voted in favor of allowing sports on Sundays, just in time for a new
controversy, Elvis Presley.
On August 31, 1957, Elvis, Scotty, Bill, D.J. and the Jordanaires went to
Vancouver by train to perform at Empire Stadium. It was the second stop of
a tour of the Northwest that had started the day before in Spokane.
By this time Elvis had recorded eight No. 1 singles in two years, had
made three movies and was about to release "Jailhouse Rock" as his latest
single. Having performed in Toronto
and Ottawa in April, this was only the third time they ever
performed outside of the U.S. and for Elvis it would be the last.Vancouver's first
rock-and-roll show had taken place barely a year before, when Bill Haley and the Comets drew 6,000 people to the Kerrisdale
Arena. Now Elvis had drawn a crowd over four times larger.
20 year old Red Robinson, the
DeeJay for CKWX who had emceed the Bill Haley show and emceed Elvis' show said, "That was the first time there was ever a performer in front of 26,000 people in a rented stadium.
Sinatra, Crosby, no one ever rented
stadiums before him." According to records given to Red
by the promoter Hugh Pickett shortly before he died, there were 25,898 paid admissions
and at ticket prices of $1.50, $2.50 and $3.50, the gross receipts came to $61,099.86
of which Elvis probably earned $21,936.32.2
Norm Pringle of CDKA Radio, Elvis and Elsie Pringle -
Aug. 31, 1957
Red said,“With the press conference over, the reporters were
ushered out. As Emcee of the show, I remained with Elvis. Let me tell
you about an incident that happened while we killed the hour or so
remaining until show time. It taught me that, while Elvis was always
polite, he also had a wild streak of fun in him. After we’d been
chatting for some time, Elvis opened the dressing room door at the
stadium and invited one of the policemen outside to come in. He asked to
borrow the cop’s handcuffs… then casually handcuffed me to a shower
rod. Then he hid the key and laughed wildly at the joke."
George Corrie (chauffeur) drives Elvis and fan club contest
Empire Stadium prior to start of the show
Photo courtesy John Corrie and the Vancouver Province
The crowd was seated in the stadium's stands on either side of the football
field, and the stage was set up in the north end zone. It was constructed
on the back of two flatbed trucks with a fence put up around it and between the
stage and the audience was nearly 100 yards of empty football field with air
cadets and police lined up as security. The opening band played for about
45 minutes before Elvis and the band went on. When the music began, more or less drowned
out by the screams of the crowd, the crowd surged past the 'security' onto the
field and sat down in front of the stage. Scotty said, "We must have
looked like ants to them back where they were sitting. All they wanted to
do was to get closer. They didn't care if they had seats or not."1
Fans cheers in the stands at Empire Stadium - Aug. 31, 1957
Photo courtesy Vancouver Province
Stadium officials stopped the show and told the crowd it would not continue
until they got back off the field. D.J. remembers how defiant the crowd
was. Stadium officials couldn't budge them. D.J. said, "They
tried and they tried, and they wouldn't move, so we finally started the show."1
The concert had lasted all of 22 minutes. Frightened by the surging fans, Parker
told Elvis to cut the show short. When Elvis abruptly left the stage Scotty and the others were left
onstage to face the fans alone.1 Unknown
to the audience, Elvis had gone into an alcove aside the stairs behind the
curtain, gave his Gold jacket to one of his entourage (possibly Gene Smith) who
then ran to the car to be whisked away pursued by the fans. Vancouver Sun
photographer Ralph Bower said, "they knocked the fence over and chased him, and that's when he got away. They came like
a herd of cattle. I was standing there and they run right over the top
of me."2 Elvis
walked across the field to the dressing rooms unnoticed in his black shirt.
The Jordanaires and Elvis onstage at Empire Stadium - Aug. 31, 1957
Photo courtesy Elvis Album
D.J. said, "The kids all ran up there and the platform kind of tilted to one
side." By the time they got their instruments loaded into their car,
they were surrounded by fans. All they could do was sit and wait it out. "They shook the car a little bit thinking Elvis
was in there with us," said D.J., "but finally they let us go. It
took about two hours for us to get out. It usually took us about two hours
to get out of all the buildings."1
Bower snapped a shot of the crowd just before they trampled him, and the paper ran it on the front page, accompanied by a scathing review by
"It was like watching a demented army swarm down the hillside to do
battle in the plain when those frenzied teenagers stormed the field,"
"Elvis and his music played a small part in the dizzy circus. The big
show was provided by Vancouver teenagers, transformed into writhing,
frenzied idiots of delight by the savage jungle beat music. A hard, bitter core
of teenage troublemakers turned Elvis Presley's one-night stand at Empire Stadium into the most disgusting exhibition of mass hysteria and
lunacy this city has ever witnessed." The kids who were
at the show, of course, felt differently and they loved Kirkwood's hysterical condemnation of the show.2
Colonel Parker also enjoyed reading the accounts of the riot the next day.
Scotty said, "It really wasn't a riot, the fans were just trying to get
closer to the stage to see, that's all."1
Red recalls that at the show they played
"Money Honey", "That's Where Your Heartaches
Begin", "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock". He said the
"biggest single goof" of his long career was when he went on the radio the day following the
show and divulged Elvis' room number. He said, "I went on
the air the next day and said 'Wasn't that wonderful, Elvis stayed at the Hotel Georgia, room 1226.' The kids went
up and ripped up the carpet, tore pieces out of the bed. It cost CKWX
about $5,000 to repair the room."2
Elvis mania had given way to Beatle mania
when on August 22, 1964, the Beatles played
Empire Stadium. Their plane arrived earlier than scheduled so they
had their driver take them King's Hamburgers and they spent the rest of
the time driving around Vancouver, seeing the sites consuming .19 cent
hamburgers until their press conference. Red Robinson emceed that show also. It was like Deja
Vu (all over again) except the Beatles show lasted seven minutes longer
and there was seating on the field.
Like when Elvis performed, most at the show heard very little above the screams
of the fans.
The show featured several opening acts which included
DeShannon, The Exciters, The Righteous Brothers and
Bill Black's Combo. The show began
at 8:14 and The Beatles came on at 9:23. Despite the long show,
many reporters still thought the the Beatles' 29 minute set was too
short. William Littler in a grumpy piece in the Vancouver Sun,
said, "Seldom in Vancouver's entertainment history have so many (20,261)
paid so much ($5.25 top price) for so little (27 minutes) as did the
audience which screamed at The Beatles in Empire Stadium Saturday
As before, the newspapers sent classical music critics to review a rock
and roll show.
Three attempts were made to smash the ten-foot high stadium gates,
and it finally buckled under the strain seconds after The Beatles began
their performance, but only a dozen or so fans managed to get in before
police and ushers got it closed again and held it shut with their
So dangerous was the situation at Empire Stadium that at about 18
minutes into the show, Brian Epstein, concerned for the safety of the
crowd, instructed Red to interrupt the show to plead
for calm. When he did so, John Lennon told him to "Get the F**k off the
stage!" Red then directed him to Brian and then John,
realizing the circumstances, said, "I see.
Carry on mate." They played another song and then Brian himself
interrupted the show to appeal to the crowd.
George Harrison, Ringo Star and Red Robinson
Photo courtesy Red Robinson
Thousands of teenagers left their seats and rushed the stage,
crushing hundreds of young girls against the restraining fence.
Dozens of girls suffered broken ribs and hundreds were treated for
hysteria and shock.3
The Beatles in Vancouver - August 22, 1964,
original video replaced Mar. 4, 2014
Finally, Paul McCartney tried to calm the crowd, they played one more
song and then left.
Their exit was timed to perfection. They completed 'Long Tall
Sally', bowed low while unstrapping their guitars, bolted
from the stage into waiting limousines and with motorcycle outriders,
they were out of the stadium fewer than 30 seconds from their last note.
The Beatles drove straight to the airport where they caught a plane to
Los Angeles.3 They had been
booked to spend the night in town at the Hotel Georgia, where Elvis
stayed, but the experience convinced them to fly on that evening.
The Beatles and the Bill Black Combo on the 1964 tour
Photo courtesy Kittra
Bill Black's Combo opened for the Beatles for most of the shows on their
1964 tour, 30 days in Europe and 30 days across the US and Canada.
Reggie Young was the only original member of the Bill Black Combo on the
tour. Bill Black had already given up the road. Reggie said
he only joined the tour because he wanted to visit England. The
rest of the combo included Bob Tucker (bass), Sammy Creason (drums),
Bubba Vernon and Ed Logan (sax).
Empire Stadium Vancouver, BC Canada
Near the end of it's reign, Empire Stadium seated 32,375 and had artificial
grass, being the first stadium in Canada to do so. During its tenure it was the
largest stadium in Canada in the 1950s and 60s before the covered and half
covered stadiums came into being. It had been home to the BC Lions
from 1954 to 1982 and the
Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League (NASL) during the 1970s
and '80s. The stadium was demolished in the early 1990s and the site
served as a parking lot for the Pacific National Exhibition
and Playland nearby, the sixth largest fairgrounds in North America.
After several years the property was converted to a soccer field and track on the site of the old
Empire Field Vancover, B.C. Canada
The British Empire and Commonwealth Games became the British
Commonwealth Games in 1970 before finally becoming simply the Commonwealth
Games in 1974. They are still held every four years. John Landy retired from track competition in 1957 and in
2001 became the 26th State Governor of Victoria, Australia, retiring
from that position after a five year term. Roger Bannister
retired from racing shortly after his famous run and has since pursued a
career in neurological medicine. Today, he is director of the National
Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London. He was knighted by the Queen in
1975, but Sir Roger had long since won the world's acclaim. Sports
Illustrated rated Bannister's breakthrough alongside the scaling of
Everest as the most significant athletic feat of the 20th century.4
The Beatles meet Elvis in Bel-Air - August 27, 1965
In the summer of 1965, while the Beatles were in Hollywood and Elvis was
making movies there, a meeting was arranged and on August 27 they met at
Elvis' house on Perugia Way in Los Angeles (Bel-Air). John Lennon would
later recall, "After about an hour we stopped and began to talk about the
thing we all knew best --entertaining. In particular, the experiences
we'd all had on tour. ``Some funny things happen to you on the road,
don't they?" Elvis smiled and said, ``I remember once in Vancouver we'd only done
a number or two when some of the fans rushed the stage. It was lucky the
guys and I got off in time. They tipped the whole damn rostrum over!
Yeah, we pay the price for fame with our
nerves don't we!" 5
''Next thing I knew, I was biting the cop's arm'
'It was pandemonium . . . When I turned around I saw all the fans in my
section running down the rows.' It was August 31, 1957. Elvis Presley
performed his first and last show in Vancouver. It was a day that
hundreds of Province readers will never forget . . .
They wanted all of Elvis.
It seemed that all of North America's teenagers had tuned in when Elvis
Presley performed on TV's Ed Sullivan variety show -- from the waist up.
Sullivan had made the decision to protect impressionable youth from
Elvis's gyrating pelvis.
So, when it was announced that all of Elvis would be in Vancouver on
Aug. 31, 1957, the whole town was talking. Elvis was popular like no
performer before or since, with the possible exception of The Beatles a
few years later. He had a casualness, a sensuality, a rebelliousness
that startled the staid North America of the day.
Like any good mythological event, there are various versions of what
transpired on Aug. 31, those there disagreeing on everything from
audience size (16,000? 22,000?) to its length (35 minutes? Five
minutes?) to whether it turned into a riot.
But some things about that day are clear. It was the last concert Elvis
would perform outside the U.S. and the first large-scale gathering of
the youthful cultural combustion then incubating across the Lower
Mainland and the rest of North America.
The rambunctious goings-on of the day were a precursor of more to come
in the 1960s and '70s. The excitement around Elvis's Vancouver
appearance foreshadowed a generation gap wide as the Grand Canyon that
would explode a decade later with the counterculture's Summer of Love.
Province music critic Ida Halpern wrote that Elvis's performance was "an
artificial and unhealthy exploitation of the enthusiasm of youth's body
and mind . . . One could call it subsidized sex."
But Vancouver youth responded differently. As Colleen Chapman, who was
13 when she attended the concert, wrote us: "We were young and impatient
to see this new symbol of rebellion who was giving us the kind of music
we wanted. Of course, I tell anyone who will listen this [concert] story
because, as someone who is born and raised in Vancouver, it makes me
feel part of the beginning of monumental change."
The Elvis concert at the PNE's Empire Stadium is a big part of local
rock lore and when The Province asked for the recollections of readers
who were there, we were overwhelmed by the response. We're thankful to
everyone who contacted us but are able to print only a fraction of the
What happened on Aug. 31, 1957? Here are some recollections of the youth
of the day: