It’s a custom that dates back to the time of the Sun King, though today the annual New Year’s Day levee honours the English monarchy, not the French tradition of its origins in Canada.
Capt. David Ratz of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment on Saturday said the continuation of the centuries-old celebration is rooted in the country’s military past, but at the same time is a way of looking to the future and connecting with the community at large.
“All the serving officers and retired officers get together in the mess. We toast the Queen in the morning, we have a breakfast and then we get together and socialize and think about our obligations and our duties toward Queen and country and look forward to the future,” he said.
“In the afternoon we have invitations that have gone out to the various dignitaries in the community, the mayor and members of Parliament, and so on, and we receive the community in that way as well.”
Ratz went on to say that the military’s identity – its esprit de corps – is based on tradition, which is why the levee at the Armoury holds such a special place in the hearts of its members.
“It’s important in Thunder Bay to carry on those traditions because it’s something that ties us to the past, it ties us to the former military members in Thunder Bay and it gives us a sense to start the year,” he said.
“It definitely ties us to the community. We just look forward to future activities and certainly lets people from Thunder Bay know we are committed overseas in the future, and that’s something that draws our attention from the start of the year onward.”
Lt.-Cmdr John Bell, commanding officer of HMCS Griffon – which held its own levee on Saturday afternoon – said he’s proud to carry on the traditions of those who came before him in the Canadian military.
“The levee, certainly in the Canadian tradition, goes back to the era of New France, when the governor of New France would invite people to come greet him on the day of the New Year. It was an opportunity to talk to the governor and friends and comrades and to greet the New Year,” Bell said.
“In the military that tradition has continued, certainly on behalf of Her Majesty, the Queen. Essentially we do this on behalf of the Queen of Canada, the commander in chief of the Canadian Forces. We basically like to greet the citizens, in this case of Thunder Bay, and welcome them to the new year and to enjoy the festive season.”
Guests were seen eating beef on a bun, and of course there was plenty of eggnog – alcohol-induced and alcohol-free – for attendees to enjoy.
Confederation College president Pat Lang was at HMCS Griffon on New Year’s Day. Lang, who is completing a three-year term promoting a non-commissioned members subsidized education program, also thinks the levee is a great way to celebrate and “lift off” the new year.
For us, this is an opportunity for us to reconnect with people who have been involved with the navy for many, many years, to thank them for their service and to welcome new people,” said Lang, proudly sporting her captain’s stripes.