KENTVILLE, NS – Maria and Gilbert Kendall live in Las Vegas, and travel home to Somerset each year to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with their son Steven.
And over the past 20 years, that trip has included several stops at legions across Kings County to ring in New Year’s Day at levee events.
This year, they stopped in at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #69 in Berwick for the morning, and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #6 in Kentville for afternoon drinks and to visit with old friends.
“For us, it’s the social part that makes this day. It’s so important to see people, and to celebrate the New Year,” said Maria Kendall.
A longstanding tradition
According to Nova Scotia Archives, the first known levee dates back to Jan. 1, 1646, in New France, when the governor received people to wish them a happy New Year.
The event has become a much less formal affair in the 21st century, and is a time for people to gather, say hello and celebrate a new start.
Helen Baltzer, a past-president of the Kentville legion, has been a member for over 50 years, and has overseen countless levees and witnessed its changes over the years.
“The levee itself has changed, but the social aspect has not,” said Baltzer.
“You can see people you haven’t seen for the whole year, and also people you sometimes haven’t seen since school.”
Dorothy Johnstone has been involved with the legion for over 40 years, and says the levee is just one of many reasons she’s stayed involved for so long.
“To me, it’s something we’ve been doing for years, and is something people love.”
Feeling at home among friends
Shelly Meister is the Kentville branch bar manager and has served people at 12 levees and attended countless more before working at the legion, having grown up with parents who were also involved with the organization.
“It’s always been a tradition to come to the legion on Levee Day,” she said.
“I look forward to it – I’m not a New Year’s Eve girl, I don’t stay up late, so this is the big celebration for me.”
The Kendalls wave as Meister walks by, a friend they’ve made after countless years of stopping in on New Year’s Day. She is one of several friends they’ve gotten to know from spending time at the legion for levees.
The legion, for them and so many others, is like a second home, and a place they look forward to starting the New Year at, surrounded by friends.
“The people here know you, and shake your hand. That’s nice, and that’s part of the levee, and of the legion,” said Gilbert Kendall.
And the levee is where that happens, for the Kendalls, Meister, and others across Nova Scotia, where the tradition continues.
“It’s just such a new beginning. We’re starting off on day one, and everybody’s got a positive attitude for what’s ahead,” said Meister.
“That’s what the levee is all about.”