The annual New Year’s Day levee in Niagara-on-the-Lake ushered in a year of firsts, including a toast from the first “lady lord mayor,” as introduced by Scott Finlay, emcee of the event.
“And about time,” he added.
He joked to the large crowd at Navy Hall about Lord Mayor Betty Disero walking along Queen Street to the event, while sending her chain of office on ahead rather than wearing it.
‘I say, Betty, flaunt it. I know Gary Burroughs used to surf in it. Let ‘em know who you are – the new boss in town.”
Finlay, a program co-ordinator with Parks Canada and also an interpretation officer — a title which earns him the right to appear at many events dressed in an 1812 officer’s uniform, usually portraying Sir Isaac Brock— may also have introduced the only female to ever speak at the levee. The 29-year tradition welcomed friends and neighbours to the warmth of historic Navy Hall, flames blazing in the fireplace, to celebrate the new year with local politicians.
Parks Canada and the Friends of Fort George partner as hosts.
Disero introduced the Town councillors who were able to attend, saying she was delighted to be with them “as your team at the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
NOTL has “such a rich and cultural built form of heritage,” she said, with heritage supporters who are “pioneers and leaders in many ways, steering culture around the world.”
But while the occasion is intended to “recognize celebrate the past, I’m also pleased to celebrate 2019,” said Disero.
“We have a lot of work to do in 2019. I look forward to working with all of you, as do my colleagues on council. We look forward to having a very successful year, because we will be working together.”
Rob Nicholson, MP for the Niagara Falls riding, which includes NOTL, applauded those who worked to make the event a success. “And appropriately so,” he added. “Who has a greater history of which we can be more proud than the people of Niagara and the people of Canada?”
He said he has told his colleagues in Ottawa many times that the War of 1812 “changed the course history of history in this world. It ensured that Canada would be separate and apart, and would continue to develop how we saw fit. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Annual levees are a great example of the military and the people of a community getting together, all on the same side, he said.
The military presence was never intended to be “any sort of oppression” to residents, he added, “but to work together for the best interests of Niagara and Canada.”
Recently elected regional representative Gary Zalepa Jr. said the afternoon was a first for him as well — it was his first opportunity to speak at the event. He thanked the partnership of Parks Canada and the Friends of Fort George for hosting the event, and also providing historic sites for visitors to enjoy. ’”It takes a village to make all this happen.”
He spoke of other partnerships: “We’re ready to shoot a cannon off across the river,” he said, adding he was certain “we’ve sent a memo to our American friends and I’m sure they’ll be okay with that.”
Referring to his new role and the importance of working together, he said, “We look forward to getting to work at the region to address good governance, which is what we heard this country is all about.”
The crowd of several hundred people jammed shoulder to shoulder, along with several youngsters, devoured a table of treats, and was urged to fill their glasses with punch for the several customary toasts to the Queen and country.
Jim Alexander, former president of the Friends of Fort George, toasted the military, saying “to law and order, to Canada.”
“To Canada,” echoed a young child’s voice, to the delight of the crowd.
Richard Coyne, also a member of the Friends, spoke of the “204 years of friendship we have enjoyed with our friends across the river.” He was referring to the peace treaty signed on Christmas Eve, 2014, by Great Britain and the U.S. to end the War of 1812, and got the biggest laugh of the afternoon with his tactful toast — Coyne chose to ask those in attendance to raise their glasses to the office of the president, rather than to the president himself.
“Close to this spot and maybe on this exact spot,” the British officers of the time would have been raising a toast to King George III, said Friends of Fort George member Rick Meloen, who raised a a glass to toast the king of 220 years ago.
The event ended according to tradition with a cannon-firing across the Niagara River, with Fort George interpreters supervising Richard Ashbury, who earned the title of honorary cannoneer at an auction held at the Friend’s Beefsteak Society Dinner.