Equipped with a paper scroll, bell and umbrella, the newly hired town crier cleared his throat and addressed a crowd in pouring rain Wednesday in the St-Roch neighborhood of Quebec City.
“Oyez, Oyez! Gather up!” said Charles-Auguste Lehoux in French.
Some viewers smiled. Others stopped dead on the sidewalk to listen to announcements ranging from job and volunteer opportunities to where to buy fresh fruit in town.
“It’s a lot of fun to see people listening,” Lehoux said.
“You should try it one day, screaming out loud in a public space, it’s a lot of fun. It’s like there’s something almost cathartic about it.”
The tradition of the town crier, dating back centuries, once common in Europe, could have an important role in 2023, Lehoux says: making information more accessible to those with limited literacy or people without access to electronics.
“Most people find it funny. I think most people think it’s more of a kind of entertainment. [or] tourist work, but in reality it is not. It’s about information,” Lehoux said.
“It’s a big plus if it’s also a bit of entertainment.”
As a choir director and singer, he says he had to apply and audition before securing the part-time position.
“I prepared for the audition with my singing coach and it was a lot of fun,” Lehoux said.
“Just me, yelling in a public park on a Monday morning ‘La la la la la la!'”
Crier ‘short-term solution’
This project has been a long time coming and started in 2019, said Pénélope Dagenais-Lavoie, project manager at Engrenage St-Roch, the organization behind the initiative.
In 2019, they surveyed the community and found that 66% of people in difficult socioeconomic situations were not receiving information shared online. She says the pandemic exacerbated the problem as everything, including social life, moved online.
“That’s a problem,” Dagenais-Lavoie said.
“That’s how we came up with the idea of having a physical town crier be here and make the information more centralized and accessible.”
Lehoux reads announcements that are also posted on the community bulletin board at Complex Place Jacques Cartier, a town square.
Although people might expect him to wear a dated outfit during his commercials, Lehoux says his role is less an homage to town criers’ history and more of a tool.
He says that many people still struggle with literacy. As a former music teacher to recently immigrated children, Lehoux says many of her parents had difficulty reading French because it was not her first language.
“We don’t think about it often, but literacy is really an issue, even in Quebec today,” Lehoux said. Teaching people to read is a long-term solution, she said, but in the meantime, his new work may help.
“Believe [this] it’s a very low-tech, human-scale solution,” Lehous said. “As a short-term solution, I think the town crier is really innovative.”
Pregonero will continue with the announcements twice a week, even in winter
Lehoux expects the news of this initiative to spread around town and the town square to become more and more crowded each week as he shares announcements every two weeks at 12:30pm sharp all year long, even in winter. .
“You just have to dress very, very warm, and there’s no problem,” Lehoux said.
Lehoux hopes it’s reminiscent of how Quebecers used to gather on the church steps on Sundays to catch all the local news.
“I really hope to create a kind of meetup every week where people … can come, meet, say hello, talk a little bit and then catch up on the latest news,” Lehoux said.