Gil and Helen Levines’ Legacy: Changing the World Through the Power of Song

When Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a hootenanny”, were the beginning of Gil’s Hootenanny, an Ottawa tradition now into its 14th year and getting stronger. 

Held each year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of song to change the world was inspired by Gil, the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a great lover of folk music and a staunch supporter of folk musicians. Helen Levine, who died at 95 in October 2018, also considered herself an “old folkie”. Helen and Gil showed their love of folk music in many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies and May Day celebrations at their home for decades. ​

One of Gil’s favourite troubadours was Pete Seeger. In 1957, Gil co-produced a Seeger concert in Ottawa, with friends Harvey Glatt and Max Sternthal, at a time when Pete was blacklisted in the US. Helen recalled that they “scraped $25 together to rent the hall, which wasn’t easy back then”. 

Helen and Gil’s vision of a better world included bringing people together to celebrate and share the stories, struggles and victories of working women and men. It is thus fitting that Gil’s Hootenanny has evolved into a fun, energetic sing-along event that celebrates the power of song to change the world.

Gil’s Hootenanny will take place at 7:00 pm on May Day, Monday, May 1, at 30 Cleary Avenue, the campus of the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. The venue is accessible, has ample parking and is serviced by OC Transpo. 

Tickets for Gil’s Hootenanny will be $20. Kids can attend free of charge.

Stay tuned for further information about the 2023 program and ticket sales.