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John Tory breaks with tradition, goes skating for 2015 New Year's levee

12/29/2014 02:39 EST | Updated 02/28/2015 05:59 EST
Mayor John Tory's New Year's Levee will break from tradition to be a family-friendly afternoon skate at the outdoor rink at Nathan Phillips Square.

New Year's levees are a Canadian tradition, dating back to the country's colonial years. Levees in Toronto, for approximately the past 50 years, have been a chance to shake hands and say a few words with the mayor, like last New Year's, when former mayor Rob Ford held a meet-and-greet and photo session.

Tory is trying something new and will give an annual New Year's message as well as "mix and mingle" with members of the public on the ice.

A break from tradition

Fur traders began the tradition of a New Year's Day levee in Canada in the late 1600s. They would pay tribute to the crown by congregating for a beverage with their government representative.

The word levée, from the French, to rise (as in from bed), finds its origin in the European court custom of morning assemblies held by the ruling classes. The first recorded levee took place in 1646, hosted by the Governor of New France.

The host of the levee, historically a representative of the crown, wishes citizens a happy new year and discuss the news of the day of the colony, and report the on-goings of the motherland, either France or England depending on whether the levee took place in Quebec or Ontario.

The governing official would also lead a pledge to crown, reaffirming loyalty to the monarchy.

New Year's levees were exclusive to males up until World War II, when women were allowed to attend as many Canadian men went to war.

The first mayoral levee in Toronto was held on Jan. 1, 1968, under mayor William Dennison, and was held at St. Lawrence Hall. In 1971, as many as 1,500 people attended Dennison's third levee.

In Niagara-On-The-Lake, a cannon is fired on every Jan. 1 for the town's levee — a symbol of the event's colonial ties.

Beverages are traditionally served at the New Year's levee, including mulled wine, which Quebecois called "reindeer blood", or a mix of whisky, goat milk, nutmeg and cinnamon, which Ontarians called "moose milk".

The mayor's levee does not honour that tradition, either, offering guests hot chocolate and apple cider at a warming station next to the rink.

But the Naval Club of Toronto, holding a levee at the same time, will serve the traditional moose milk.

Tory will be on hand at the rink from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will also be a DJ playing family-friendly music.

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