Levees bring out Islanders

Nancy MacPhee
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Summerside, Kensington host annual events

KENSINGTON — Hundreds of well-wishers made their way through the doors of Summerside City Hall and the Kensington Lions Club to celebrate the dawn of the new year by taking in what is a long-standing tradition on the Island — the levee.

Provincial Treasurer Wes Sheridan (left) chats with Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart and his wife, Gail, during the city's annual levee, which was held Wednesday afternoon at Summerside City Hall.

In Kensington, Mayor Gordon Coffin and councillors greeted Lt-.Gov. Frank Lewis who stopped by as they kicked off the community's 100th anniversary celebrations.

“We are seeing some new faces and we also use it as a tradition, a meet and greet to ring in the new year. We also use it to stay thank-you to people in the community,” the mayor said. “I’ve run into people who are from away that don’t understand the term. It actually goes back to colonial France where soldiers would honour their commanding officer and wish him well for the new year. Often their lives were in their commanding officer’s hands. It’s grown from there.”

Clayton and Marie Mill have been attending levees for four decades and say it is the only way they kick off the new year.

“We like to meet the people and the people that are making the decisions,” said Clayton while visiting the Kensington levee and was later spotted in Summerside. Marie added, “We used to go to Charlottetown but we haven’t the last few years because by the time we get done there and get back here it’s over.”

For Marie, it’s also an opportunity to dress up and chat with friends, neighbours and acquaintances, some of whom she hasn’t seen since last year’s levee.

“We didn’t go out last night so we could come today. We’ve been doing this ever since we got married,” she added. “It gets to be a tradition. People like to socialize.”

In anticipation of a larger than normal crowd due to the kick-off of the town’s centennial, this year’s levee was moved to the local Lions Club, a smart move as hundreds of people filled the hall to wish the mayor and council all the best in 2014.

Town crier Erskine Ashley, clanging a bell and his voice booming, read the official centennial proclamation, which was then signed by Coffin and Lewis. The town’s Christmas decorating awards were handed out and a centennial commemorative postage cancellation was unveiled.

Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart and council, along with area MLAs and federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, were in the official line up, which weaved its way through council chambers, shaking hands, sharing stories and wishing those who stopped by a Happy New Year.

Laughter filled the air, as did the melodic sounds of the piano, provided courtesy of Lowell Huestis, a long-time fixture at the city's annual levee.

“This is one of the largest levees ever,” said Stewart in a rare break from greeting visitors. “It draws a big crowd and it is chance for everyone to meet.”

Throughout City Hall’s second floor people mingled, snacked on food that seemed to be everywhere, and caught up with friends old and new.

“It’s a great way for people to get out and celebrate the first new day of the new year and see their friends and neighbours. The optimism is in the air for a great year ahead,” said Tyne Valley-Linkletter MLA Paula Biggar. “It really is a great tradition for P.E.I. I don’t know how popular it is in other provinces but it is certainly popular here.”

For Biggar, 2014 brings with it a new grandson, who, she joked, apparently didn’t want to arrive in 2013 and wants to make his grand entrance in 2014.

The man who holds the province’s purse strings, Provincial Treasurer Wes Sheridan, was spotted both in Kensington and Summerside.

A native of New Brunswick, the levee is something not as celebrated in that province but something he enjoys.

“I always did levees, not as many as I do nowadays. It’s a great way to just get out and see your friends and neighbours,” said Sheridan. “They are a wonderful tradition and is strong here on Prince Edward Island.”

His personal resolution, he joked, is to “stay off the roof,” referring to a nasty fall that resulted in broken ribs and a punctured lung almost seven weeks ago.

“It’s to try and live life the way it should be. That’s all that we can do.”

For photos from the New Year's Eve celebration at Credit Union Place and from the Kensington and Summerside levees, visit http://www.journalpioneer.com/Slideshow/9817/Ringing-in-the-new-year/1.





Geographic location: Summerside, Kensington

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