Levee welcomes new year

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

It was the first day of the new year, and the first levee for Lord Mayor Pat Darte.

Although Darte said he grew up playing at Fort George, riding his bike there with his friends, he had never attended a Friends of Fort George New Year's Levee.

As a boy, he said, his father took him to the Lake St. Armoury for the Lincoln and Welland levee, but the 25th annual event at Navy Hall opened his eyes to what a great job the Friends of Fort George do to welcome in the new year.

"The Friends of Fort George do this so well," said Darte, to a crowd so large it was difficult to move in the historic building.

The levee has become a popular tradition, one that's important to the community and to the region, said regional councillor Gary Burroughs, who never misses the local event.

On New Year's Day, he said, "This is a wonderful place to be."

Wesley Turner, co-chair of the town's bicentennial committee, took on the persona of Ralph Clench, an American who became one of Butler's Rangers and settled in Niagara. He fought with the British at Queenston Heights, and was captured by the "dastardly American militia," Turner said. Clench has been turning up at the annual levee for several years, sharing his vision of what was happening in Niagara leading up to the War of 1812, and during the war years.

The past year (1814) "has not been enjoyable," he told those gathered at Navy Hall, with several "awful battles," a terrible loss of life on both sides, and the burning of St. Davids.

"And what was it all about?" he asked.

He spoke of the negotiations underway that would result in the Treaty of Ghent mid-February, that could be expected to lead to a period of rebuilding the town that would become renowned for its beauty, wine and culture, and ended with praise for the Americans and their belief in peace over war.

The New Year’s Levee is a community celebration which carries on the old tradition of citizens gathering together to pledge allegiance to the Sovereign, to renew old acquaintances and raise a toast to the continued prosperity of the nation.

Dr. Richard Merritt raised a glass to Queen Elizabeth, who will become the longest-reigning sovereign in September, Jim Alexander of the Friends of Fort George toasted King George III, Rick Meloen toasted the Americans for sharing 200 years of peace, Tony Chisholm, the president of the Friends of Fort George, toasted "our beloved country, Canada", and Lt.-Col. Bruce Mair of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment called for a toast to the Canadian Forces serving at home and abroad.

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