I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague
Every year on January 1st hundreds of well-dressed Islanders hit the streets of Charlottetown for an annual event like no other. This event allows regular Joe citizens to hob nob with the political, business and cultural elite of the Island. This event also provides an excellent opportunity for those citizens to get drunk on bagged wine and Hermit Sherry in the middle of the afternoon. Sounds fun doesn’t it. I’m pleased to report that the New Year’s Levees are alive and well and are still drawing big, drunken crowds of respectable Islanders.
The New Years Levee tradition dates back to the 1600s. It was a way for government officials to wish the populace a happy new year and to thank them for their support. It began with the Lieutenant Governor, but since then other organizations have become part of the tradition, and today there are at least a dozen levees held in Charlottetown by various groups and individuals including the Masons, the Bishop and even the Sports Page Club. At each location a receiving line is formed, handshakes and hellos are delivered by the brass of each group or organization, then refreshments are served to the guests. It’s like a gigantic pub crawl, except the attendees are wearing their Sunday best rather than obnoxious t-shirts, and the drinks are often free.
This year’s plan was to travel to the levees with a group of friends. We were to meet at the Lieutenant Governor’s at 10 am. One friend volunteered to be our driver for the day and the rest of us pledged to drink his share at each location. It was a great plan.
I arrived at 10 am and the receiving line was already out the side door of Fanningbank. Halfway through the line I noticed my friends making their way to the exit. They had already been through the line and were approximately 20 minutes ahead of me. They would have remained so throughout the day if I’d stayed to accept greetings from His and Her Honour, so I skipped out of the line-up and joined my group. Our next stop was city hall.
At city hall we were greeted by the mayor, city councilors and several high ranking city employees. Refreshments included coffee and tea, white wine, a variety of sweets, cold cuts, cheese and crackers. Years ago they served lobster sandwiches, but in this time of fiscal austerity, I suppose they would have been seen as an unnecessary extravagance. That’s also where we ran into Wessie the Cat. He was into the wine and was being a bit of a spitty talker so we headed for the door. The next stop was UPEI, where they served fruit juice, sweets and a variety of cold cut sandwiches. After that, HMCS Queen Charlotte. There they served more cold cuts and cheese as well as moose milk, which is a soothing mixture of egg nog, rum and ice cream. It was delicious and I went back for seconds.
For the next three hours we made another 6 or 7 stops. Some of the highlights included Stratford Town Hall where the red wine was abundant, and intoxication began to take hold, the Brighton compound where the regimental band played pop music’s greatest hits and where everyone came for the seafood chowder, the Mason’s lodge, where again the wine poured freely and intoxication became a difficult word to say, the Bishop’s residence, where the aforementioned Hermit Sherry was served, and the Government of PEI levee, where we snuck into the private room for a few beverages with the Island’s political elite. We ended the day at the Fire Hall for a dance. I hung up my levee jacket at 7 pm, drunk and exhausted from a marathon of a day.
I recommend the New Years Levees to anyone with the intestinal fortitude to take them in. I also recommend a dry new years eve, because cold cuts don’t exactly soothe a hung over stomach.