Interview with a Town Crier

How long have you been a Town Crier?

I have been an official town crier since 1990 (21 years)

How did you become a Town Crier? Is there a course you need to take or just a strong voice?

I became a town crier by entering a competition in Dutton for our centennial year.

There is no course but the Ontario Guild of Town Criers is a guild whose mandate is to assist people and communities or recognized historical societies to obtain or assist a town crier. I personally assisted in the creation of a town crier for an event in a community on the Ontario Manitoba border and I never even left Dutton to do this. E-mail and the web are magnificent things.

I am sure many people have never seen a Town Crier, where can you be seen swinging your bell?

I go where ever I am invited if not booked and event is appropriate by contacting my wife Jenny.

As a Town Crier you need a strong, loud voice to make sure the announcements are heard clearly. Have you ever lost your voice from your job?

No I have not as yet lost my voice But, I have swallowed a large number of flying insects. At the world championship in Markham a crier from Nova Scotia discovered upon entering the stage and opening his mouth had no voice. He promptly doffed his cap and bowed to the public, the judges and the host, turned and retraced his steps. This is the accepted procedure when a crier is unable to complete his cry for whatever reason.

Who hires you to make announcements? Can someone hire you to stand on a street and make an announcement?

Anyone can hire me by calling my wife with details, however if it is on a street such as St. Thomas or Aylmer for example, One must notify the community and obtain permission since I am appointed to county not the individual communities with the exception of Dutton where I started and am appointed. This is so that if any phone calls arise they are aware of what is happening in their community and give the appropriate answer. Law enforcement also need to know this.

How long do you make your announcements for?

That would depend on the event and /or circumstances.

Rosy Rhubarb festival I stroll the community on Saturday of the event and will do a large number of crys. I will also do impromptu cries if requested by say a passerby or visitor. I have done Anniversaries, Birthdays, special events even a wedding where I announced the “May I present Mr. and Mrs.”

Do you have an official uniform or costume?

It is a uniform not a costume. Costume is for an actor playing the part of a town crier and since I am officially appointed, I wear the uniform of a Scottish highlander. Elgin county has the distinction of permission from Lord Elgin Commander-in-chief of the Elgin Regiment to wear his family tartan of “The Bruce” the only other county with this distinction is Bruce County.

Wwhere do you get your uniform from? I take it they aren’t on sale at Walmart.

My uniform was made specifically for me in Scotland at a mill specializing in the production of kilts. Other uniforms may be made or created as befits the community and or recognized historical group. Examples may be seen by visiting the guild web site at http://www.towncrier.on.ca/

You know other Town Criers in the UK, do you have a Town Crier conference or world championships?

Yes, we have a guild in Ontario “ The Ontario Guild of Town Criers”. Local competitions can be requested by a member town crier on behalf of an event organizer. Local competitions are where we learn from each other and practice our emerging style or try new styles or additions.

Next are Provincial competitions for which one must be a member of a guild. See website for where local, provincial and world events will be held. http://www.towncrier.on.ca/

Finally there is the World Championships where criers come from all over the world to compete to be the best in the world. I have had the privilege of attending a world competition when it has hosted in Markham and 113 criers attended the largest group to attend to this date. Guinness book of records also sets up an exacting and elaborate level recording test and records who is the loudest crier present by decibels as compared to the current record holder.

If someone wants to hire you, what would be the best way to do so?

519.762.2862  or PO 58 in Dutton, care of Jenny Phillips

How many announcements do you make a year, roughly?

I attend approximately 52 functions a year, but for a function such as Rosey Rhubarb, I might do 30 cries in a day. It depends on what’s going on, especially at Rosy Rhubarb, if it’s a visitor and they have family or someone who they want to impress, they suggest doing that. Or birthday announcements, I am good at doing that!

I do a lot of anniversaries, I haven’t done as many birthdays lately but of course we are getting older and some of the functions I have been at, I guess they’re just not, people don’t think of it that way, unless they see it and then they are “oh gee, I saw that and it was great”.

I don’t think that a Town Crier is the most, how do I say this, it’s not the first thing you think about. It’s not the norm.

But on the other hand, people don’t realize that they see town criers every day, because they are newspapermen, they’re newscasters, they’re weather reporters, in the courts, it’s the gentlemen who announces Judge so-and-so presiding but he’s appointed to the courts. Our government, when it goes to sit next week, you will see a gentleman with a great big mace and pound on the door. He is a town crier but he is appointed.

People don’t realize that anymore. They have a certain image in their head.

And they don’t associate it that this unique way of doing things is available to events and organizers and even individuals who want something a little different for their event, whether it be a birthday or anniversary, or you name it within reason. But that’s why you go through my wife.

In my case, is this here something that I should do, because there are somethings out there that are just one: something that we are not supposed to do or two: my rule of thumb is if we can do it in front of mum and dad then we can do it. If I can’t do it there then…. And store openings too, you don’t see as many store openings.

When I first started, I did something in Ontario that I didn’t realize that in the Guild very few criers do, I cried regularly, everyday, for two-three years on this main street, every Saturday from 9 til 5. If you came through here any Saturday, it didn’t matter if it was rain, snow or whatever, I was there. The first two years, I only missed two weekends.

For a long time I used to do it with the railway group, and my job was, two weeks before each event, I would start at McDonalds on the east of the city and travel to Jumbo. And my job was to go along and announce “Remember, in two weeks time, St. Thomas Railway museum” and whatever the function or visit was. And they would have to go to town council and ask if they could have permission to do this. They need to know in case if someone calls up, especially the city police. I know that the first while we did that, the museum always had a good attendance because people tend to forget that in two weeks time, I mean to go to that but gee… But this was just a reminder and then a week before I would do the same thing.

And you stand out as well.

That is part of the reason why I chose the uniform. We are a Scottish community and I took the heritage end of it. A lot of people don’t but, and my father was Scottish so I wanted to tie those two things together. The fact that Elgin County has the right to wear the Bruce tartan and the commander in chief is Lord Elgin, who is a Bruce. So this just tied into this is the uniform I should be wearing.

Editors note: Due to both time and website space constraints, the above interview has been abbreviated. Hopefully in the near future the whole interview will be posted. David Phillips is an incredibly interesting man with many great tales. If you see a town crier in Elgin County, please say hello and maybe you can get your very own announcement!