It is a new year, and Saanich might have a new tradition.
In lieu of the annual formal levée, Saanich council offered up a free public swim on New Year’s Day, which drew more than 400 people to Commonwealth Place, and where even Mayor Frank Leonard took a dip with his family.
“It will sound silly but I am giddy, this is just a great success this is literally hundreds and hundreds of people here,” Leonard said laughing. “I have never seen this many at a levée. Here we have 300 to 400, at least. This is just a great success.”
Leonard said after 26 years of traditional levées at the municipal hall, the numbers were moving in the wrong direction. The 2012 event drew only 30 to 40 people.
With the family-friendly change, he hopes Saanich residents will adopt this as a new tradition.
“Some people were seeing it as a chore. The days of the governor welcoming people into the fort for a cup of tea is behind us now,” the mayor said. “This is a time to step up to modern time. Clearly this is what people want.”
The cost for the free swim including the facility and refreshments was $4,000, which he said is the same price for coffee and tea and staff to host the traditional levée at Saanich municipal hall.
Councillors including Susan Brice, Paul Gerrard and Vic Derman greeted and interacted with a steady stream of visitors through the foyer.
Derman was pleasantly surprised with the turnout.
“The levée served its time but it was getting a little old and a little tired,” he said. “(This) stresses a healthful activity and getting out and using the recreation facilities and also gives people who have less revenue and less resources a chance to come and experience the rec centres and that is great.”
Council hopes to expand the free public portion to other Saanich recreation centres on New Year’s Day 2014.