Port Elgin Legion Branch 340: New Year’s Levée – a long history

According to tradition, Port Elgin Legion Branch 340 celebrated New Year’s day with the annual levée.

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Although the New Year’s day levée is now primarily a social event, it has a long military history and is also one that is hosted by the Governor General of Canada, provincial lieutenant governors, military establishments, municipalities and other institutions. The levée has a long tradition in the Canadian Forces as one of the activities associated with New Year’s Day.

The word levée … (from French, noun use of infinitive lever, “rising”, from Latin levāre, “to raise”) originated in the levée du soleil (rising of the sun) of King Louis XIV (1643–1715).[Wikipedia]

In the 18th century, the levée in Great Britain and Ireland became a formal court reception given by the sovereign or his/her representative in the forenoon or early afternoon. In the New World colonies, the levée was held by the governor acting on behalf of the monarch and only men were received at these events while the women attended in the evening at court.

It was in Canada, in fact, that the levée became associated with New Year’s Day. The fur traders would paying their respects to the master of the fort who was also the government representative on New Year’s Day. This custom was then adopted by the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors for their levées.

The first recorded levée in Canada was held on January 1, 1646, in the Chateau St. Louis by Charles Huault de Montmagny, Governor of New France from 1636 to 1648.

While the levée was historically a male event, during World War II levées were attended by female officers of the armed forces and, since then, they have been open to both women and men.

Refreshments were clearly an important element in the New Year’s festivities, as they still are today.