Port Dover museum to host online New Year’s Levee

·3 min read

Toes will be tapping in kitchens across Port Dover on New Year’s Day during a virtual levee hosted by the Port Dover Harbour Museum.

“We’re going to have ourselves a merry little online captain’s levee and old-time fiddle party,” said Ian Bell, a local folk musician and former Harbour Museum curator who started the levee tradition in 2002.

Bell said he has invited “a few of the usual suspects — fiddle players, accordion players, folksingers, guitar players, piano players” to ring in the new year with a free online jam session. Members of the public are welcome to join in from home.

The Captain’s Polar Bear Livestream will broadcast live on YouTube and Zoom at 2 p.m.

“You can pour yourself any kind of a drink — even the kind you can’t have in the museum — and it’ll be a great way to welcome in the new year. And a lot warmer than going for the plunge,” Bell said.

The plunge is the annual Polar Bear dip, a decades-old tradition on the Walker Street beach that sees hardy residents greet the new year by splashing into the frigid waters of Lake Erie as hundreds watch from the shore.

This year’s edition is cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, with the health unit asking residents to respect the lockdown rules and stay home.

“The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit continues to urge people to avoid gathering with anyone they don’t live with, including at informal events like the polar bear swim,” spokesperson Matt Terry said in a statement.

“The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to minimize contact with others and to stay home as much as possible.”

Harbour Museum curator Angela Wallace is grateful to Bell and the other musicians — including local favourites Mike Hogg, the Schott family and “Squeezebox Dave” Jensen — for ensuring the levee will carry on remotely.

“I’m really happy that we can continue this tradition in some way. It’s a lovely, informal event, and just a great way to start the new year,” Wallace said.

“At a time when there’s so much change and everything’s different than normal, it’s nice to have some continuity, and a celebration.”

Like all museums in Norfolk County, the Harbour Museum has been closed to visitors since the pandemic began. But Wallace and her fellow curators have been busy presenting online events and programs such as Christmas craft tutorials, summer camps, and a video series about local heritage sites and historic cemeteries called Carved in Stone.

“We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback,” Wallace said. “Obviously it doesn’t replace the ability to see people in person, but it is an effort to bring some of our programming to the community.”

For the holidays, the museum building is illuminated by hundreds of twinkling lights donated and set up by volunteers from local businesses. The project was co-ordinated by Port Dover resident Meika Matthews, who collected $2,070 in donations for the museum through sales of Dover Rocks Boxes in support of local small businesses.

Wallace said she was honoured to have the museum be Matthews’ charity of choice, adding that the response from residents was “absolutely fantastic.”

“It was so nice to actually see how much the community appreciates the museum,” Wallace said.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator