‘Oyez, oyez’: International Town Criers Day celebrates historic role

Click to play video: '‘Oyez, oyez’: It’s International Town Crier Day' ‘Oyez, oyez’: It’s International Town Crier Day
WATCH ABOVE: The second Monday in July marks International Town Criers Day. It's a day dedicated to the celebration of the crier's place in history, dating back to the 17th century. Morganne Campbell reports – Jul 8, 2019

He struts around Markham wearing his tricone hat, wool red-and-white coat and buckled boots. If you’ve met him, he’s likely the loudest in the crowd.

“History can be a little boring sometimes when you have to learn the dates and who won the War of 1812 and that sort of thing,” explained John Webster, Markham’s official town crier.

“But when you can talk about history, especially to a young person or a new Canadian that doesn’t know what Canada is all about, that’s where I get my excitement.”

Webster has been in the business of delivering proclamations and announcements since 1987, representing not just Markham but Aurora, East Gwillimbury, and Cary, North Carolina.

“I thought there would be maybe one or two or three things a year, (but it) turns out 225 events was my top year one time,” Webster said while chuckling.

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There’s quite the story behind how he ended up with this gig. It all unfolded while he was promoting the Markham Fair. Webster said he was trying to attract more visitors to the annual fair after pamphlets and bulletin boards didn’t work. He came up with another idea.

“On a whim, I went down to Malibars and rented a Town Crier suit and came up and put it on and came out rang the bell and hollered out, ‘Oyez, oyez,’ and scared the bejesus out of a lady,” said Webster.

That woman was then-Markham Mayor Carole Bell. It wasn’t long after a by-law was passed officially proclaiming Webster the town crier. And since then, the rest is history.

Webster has won the International Town Crier Competition during the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan. He is also a member of the Ontario Guild of Town Criers and he’s also been declared the honorary town crier of the Town of Edlinton in England by Lord William Haydon Gordon-Smith. His “Oyez” has been heard all across Canada.

READ MORE: Kingston’s town crier celebrates 35th anniversary

“What I like about John is he’s really become an icon for the city of Markham and it speaks to our history and the way this city has progressed,” explained Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.

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Monday marked International Town Crier Day, a day to celebrate the historical role of the crier. It’s a role that dates back to the 17th century when many people didn’t know how to read or write, so the crier would deliver messages on behalf of lords and kings.

Keeping that history alive is what drives Webster.

“You don’t see too many real town criers around anymore because there’s radio’s and televisions and texts and all kinds of stuff like that,” added Webster.

With 32 years in, Webster said he has no immediate plans to hang up his hat and bell. But when he does, he’ll be leaving behind some big pipes to fill.

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