Levees - an Island tradition

(originally posted December 2017)

Ringing in the new year with good cheer is a time-honoured tradition for many Islanders.

There are nearly 40 levees planned for New Year’s Day across the Island, some starting bright and early in the morning.

Although the levee tradition dates back to King Louis XIV, Canadians began honouring the annual New Year’s Day reception in the 1600s when fur traders would pay respect to their government representatives.  At first – until after the second world war – only men attended levees.

Today, it’s a welcoming tradition enjoyed by men and women. Peter Rukavina has been publishing an unofficial levee schedule for the past 12 years.

"I lived on the Island for 10 years before I picked up the courage to go to a levee," said Rukavina. "It wasn't something I'd grown up with, and so I had always assumed they weren't open to the likes of me.

“It turns out I was wrong." 

"After that first year, I was hooked. I enjoy the great leveler that the levees are: the Premier and the shopkeeper both waiting on the stairs of City Hall as the receiving line inches forward," he added.

Rukavina decided that he wanted to help spread the word about the levee tradition, widening the circle ever-further, and so he used the main platform at his disposal, his website. Each year he calls organizers of the levees to confirm time and location, and assembles the list into an online schedule. (updated for 2019)

Rukavina and his son Oliver will be making the rounds together on January 1 this year, proud to be continuing a tradition that, while not uniquely PEI, is thoroughly enjoyed by many Islanders and visitors.

Photographer Alana Sprague loves attending the levees so much she rents a bus to transport herself and about 50 other revellers around.

“We pick up new recruits each year,” she said.

They start at Timothy’s World Coffee in downtown Charlottetown for  refreshments then they climb onto the bus. The first stop is Their Honour’s levee at Government House.
“It is just such a fun day. We run on tight timelines so we always have our schedule planned out ahead so we all know where we need to be when,” she explained.

Sprague has her own tradition of photographing the ties worn by well known Islanders on levee day. She shares the images on social media with captions explaining who’s wearing what. She’s considering publishing a coffee table book, which could be titled The Levee Ties of PEI.

Sprague and her bus mates have become such official levee-goers that they began awarding certificates for best levee each year. It’s always an intense rivalry between Charlottetown and Stratford, she jokes.

Perhaps two of the most popular and historical levees on PEI are the Premier’s Levee and the Lieutenant Governor’s Levee.

Their Honours, the Honourable H. Frank Lewis and Mrs. Dorothy Lewis, welcome everyone to their Annual New Year's Day Levee  from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., where guests can see the beautiful traditional Christmas decorations and art and enjoy tea, sandwiches and desserts.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan will host the Premier’s levee from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Queen Street entrance. Thirty five members of the women’s chorus group Island A Cappella will perform, and there will be face painting for children, various holiday treats and refreshments.

“People come home to PEI just to go to the levees,” Sprague said. “I see people I don’t see any other time of the year. Everyone dresses up; it’s an excuse to look nice and spread cheer. It’s a great kickoff to the new year.”

Get Peter Rukavina's updated 2019 levee schedule.

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