BENJAMIN PRIEBE The Standard
SCUGOG: Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! M’lords, M’ladys, Port Perry’s waterfront and downtown will be home to the 30th annual Ontario Provincial Town Crier Champsionships on Saturday, August 9 and Sunday, August 10.
Held in conjunction with the Scugog Farmers’ Market and the Brits on the Lake car show, residents and visitors are invited out for a full day of fun and revelry amidst ringing of bells and delightful cries of an age-old tradition.
Featuring 17 Town Criers from across Ontario, and North Durham’s own back-to-back-to-back champion Bill McKee, two full days of competition will be a sight to see and hear.
“This year, I decided on three themes to compliment Scugog,” said Mr. McKee. “We’ll each be writing a cry about farmers’ markets, microbreweries like our Old Flame Brewery, and something to do with British culture for our car show.”
To kick off the events, there will be a small parade into Palmer Park at 10 a.m. on August 9, with the competition concluding inside the tasting room of Old Flame Brewery at 2 p.m. On Sunday, August 10, the third and final cry will take place in front of the Port Perry Post Office on Queen St., at 11 a.m. - with an award ceremony afterwards.
“I’m very fortunate to represent both Scugog and Uxbridge Townships,” said Mr. McKee. “We have a very close-knit community in North Durham, and I’m proud to showcase it to fellow Town Criers from across the province.”
Often sighted wearing his signature tri-cone hat and swinging a large brass bell, reigning champ Mr. McKee will deliver the first benchmark cry at the competition, which all other Criers will be measured against - but he wasn’t always top dog of Ontario’s Town Criers, as Mr. McKee has played many roles in life.Until retiring in 2010, Mr. McKee was a 31-year veteran Constable in the Toronto Police Service, but sought a less stressful career after decades of service.
Indeed, Mr. McKee owes, or blames, his career as a Town Crier to his brother David McKee - a veteran of the competition circuit and current crier for the City of Brantford.
“I watched him cry for years and years, and I had a strong voice from doing some work with the Canadian Opera Company. He got me interested, and I say how much fun he had,” explained Mr. McKee. “One day, at the Uxbridge Art in the Park festival, I started doing cries and announcing the names of all of the businesses and artists there - it just kind of stuck.”
Mr. McKee bested his brother in his first competition in Plimpton - David didn’t let Bill win for another two years - but now that they both have some chops, they retain a healthy competitive spirit.
Uxbridge Township took on Mr. McKee as their official Town Crier in 1999, and Scugog Township followed suit in 2002 - utilizing his special services in Township events year-round.
“People often ask me what makes a good Town Crier. The truth is, it’s all based on the clarity and quality of one’s voice, and the words they choose to use to represent themselves,” said Mr. McKee. “The fancy clothes and friendly personality help as well - anyone can hold a scroll and yell, but it’s the passion that makes people smile.”
In competition, each Town Crier is also judged on their deportment while entering and exiting the stage, and whether or not they fit within the required 100 to 125 words. The cry must be fanciful and enjoyable, but not overly complicated - short, sweet, and to the point.
“Crying is a lot of fun, and you can’t let it stress you out. When I pen the cry, I just try to have fun with it and the words flow naturally,” said Mr. McKee “The best part is the children, they always run up to me to get their picture taken with ‘the pirate,’ I just laugh and tell them that I don’t dress like a pirate, pirates dress like Town Criers!”
The term ‘Oyez’ which begins many of Mr. McKee’s cries can trace its roots to French word ‘Ecoutez’ or ‘Listen.’ The Town Crier was often emplyed by local government or royalty, to issue edicts and notices. Announcements of tax hikes in Europe stemmed the phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger,’ as it was a federal offence to harm a Town Crier, an agent of the Crown.
“Oyez is not so much asking if people can hear me, it comes from an older practice when many people weren’t able to read the newspaper - the Town Crier would instruct everyone within ear shot to stop and listen to the annoucnement,” said Mr. McKee.
“It takes a lot of Fisherman’s Friend to be a Town Crier - if you think you’re going to get sick, you don’t! All of the Town Criers across the world are a little bit nuts, just like me,” said Mr. McKee, whose favourite closing passage is a loud cry of ‘God Save the Queen, and God bless single malt!’
The Ontario Guild of Town Criers and Mr. McKee would like to recognize the support of a few choice local supporters, including the Baagwating Community Association, Township of Scugog, Ontario Guild of Town Criers, Vos’ Your Independented Grocer for their reception room, Old Flame Brewery, Parkwood Lodge No. 695, Meta 4 Gallery, Scugog Historical Society, Port Perry BIA, Scugog Chamber of Commerce and, Ocala Winery.
Mr. McKee would like to invite men, women and children of all ages to enjoy a day out in Port Perry on Saturday, August 9 and Sunday, August 10 - and hopes that they have as much fun as he does. Ear plugs recommended, but not required.