Frigid weather, but sizzling start to 2014 party

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Various celebrations greet new year; P.E.I. set to commemorate conference

The weather outside was frightful but it was a sizzling start for P.E.I.'s big party on Tuesday and Wednesday. The welcome for 2014 and the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference which led to Confederation was warm and energized during events New Year's Eve in Charlottetown and then across the Island on New Year's Day itself. Mother Nature tested Islanders' resolve to party and they passed with flying colours.

The city and province displayed a fine spirit of co-operation as they joined forces for the kickoff ceremonies Tuesday evening. The children's events at Murphy's Community Centre were busy with lineups as the norm. The entire family was able to enjoy a variety of activities without challenging the chilly temperatures outside.

A glittering fireworks display lit up historic Great George Street and the waterfront area following opening speeches and official welcomes Tuesday evening. Organizers were nervous that the weather might keep people away but they showed up in large numbers for the speakers, performers and fireworks.

Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis, the P.E.I. 2014 honorary patron, provided an historical perspective during remarks in front of Province House. When the Fathers of Confederation landed in Charlottetown, they walked up Great George to Province House to begin deliberations on creating the Dominion of Canada. "That history will be retold and relived in the year ahead like never before and we're all a part of it," said Lt.-Gov. Lewis as he urged Islanders to be the "world's finest party hosts" throughout the upcoming year. Visitors and tourists have already been taking notice. A travel website, lists Charlottetown is the No. 1 Canadian travel destination for 2014. It is indeed party time.

The original conference faced competition for the public's attention 150 years ago in September 1864 because a circus was in town at the same time. Tuesday night, the opening ceremonies faced stiff competition, not just from the weather but also from a P.E.I. Storm pro basketball game at Eastlink Arena and a holiday harness racing card at Red Shores.

Once the fireworks got everyone into a festive mood, it was up to Canadian country superstar Johnny Reid, Island singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant and other performers to entertain a big crowd of some 3,000 partygoers at the new P.E.I. convention centre. While country music is not necessarily everyone's cup of tea, and many might be hard-pressed to list some of Reid's song titles, he is a superb entertainer and engages the audience like few entertainers can. He always puts on a great show and this was a super one.

New Year's Day dawned even colder than the night before. There's a Polar Bear Swim, there's hypothermia and then there's insanity. We're not sure where this year's polar swim fell. Islanders have been pampered with little snow and an ice-free harbour in recent years but when organizer Jason Lee had to cut holes in the heavy ice to provide some open water, you had to wonder. Instead of the mad dash by hundreds of polar bear swimmers into the harbour, this year people could only take a quick dip, several people at a time.

The levees drew big crowds all day Wednesday for special New Year's Day and 150th anniversary greetings. Some people hit a dozen or more levees and really needed that new electronic organizer or iPhone from under the Christmas tree to keep their schedules straight.

P.E.I. 2014 Inc. did a commendable job with its first big event and now there are just 149 more to go before next New Year's Eve rolls around to close out the year-long party with an Auld Lang Syne event in Summerside.

Organizations: Province House, Dominion

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Great George Street, Canada Summerside

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