The historic city of Kingston, Ontario is the home of the world champion Town Crier Chris Whyman whose booming vocals, danger red jacket and clattering bell have made him a bright -feature of its streets for more than 20 years.
We had the chance recently to take a tour with him (see the video above) and felt like ye olde groupies trailing behind the big man as he shared Kingston’s rich history with us.
But what exactly is a Town Crier?
Well, long before Facebook, Twitter and all the other modern media contraptions people in colonial times used to get their news with gossip at the pub, a chat with a neighbour over the back fence, sometimes official pamphlets or notices or crude newspapers. But the Town Crier was often the best source. He was a bloke with a bell, a hat and bright cloak who’d stroll the streets booming out proclamations and declarations, crying ‘hear yea, hear ye’ to attract an audience.
Chris told us he took up being a Town Crier for Kingston on a whim, cobbling together a costume for a competition which he ended up winning. The job stuck and these days he is the city’s official Town Crier and Goodwill Ambassador.
He’s met a slew of celebrities and royals through his job, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, and welcomed Princess Diana and Prince Charles to Kingston when they visited in 1991. Not a bad result for something done on a whim!
He showed us all the historic sights of Kingston, which was meant to be Canada’s capital until they realised it was too close to the United States. Queen Victoria eventually declared Ottawa to be the capital, but Kingston still retains the grand designs intended to house the nation’s seats of power. The Town Hall is a real highlight as well as the shopping district, which still buzzes with old world atmosphere. Chris knows lots of little details as well. He pointed out a deep gouge in a red brick wall on one side of an alleyway and explained that was left by the countless horse drawn carts that squeezed their way through – a very interesting feature we’d never have known was there otherwise.
Chris was crowned the winner of ‘The Lord Mayor of Chester’s World Town Crier Tournament’ in Chester, England in 2004 and 2010, and will be defending his title on home turf in Kingston in August this year. He says the key to being a Good Town Crier is to take very good care of your vocal chords and only push them when it’s time to let a proclamation rip. Judging by the sheer volume we managed to capture in our video we think he’ll be right up there when the competition comes. Good luck Chris!
Dave voiceover (VO): The city of Kingston sits right beside Lake Ontario and its Thousand Islands and is Canada’s historic first capital. So, who better to show us around than a world champion Town Crier. But, what exactly is a Town Crier?
Chris Whyman, Town Crier and Goodwill Ambassador, City of Kingston (interview): I get to talk about the City of Kingston and proclaim the virtues of the city. It’s a great city, I’ve lived here all my life and it’s an easy job because if you love the job and you love the city – that’s what my favourite part of it is. Of course you do get the chance to meet various celebrities and actors and musicians and dignitaries, I’ve met the Queen and Prince Phillip twice. I welcomed Princess Diana and Charles when they came to Kingston so those sort of high prestigious events are top of the list as well.
Carmen VO: Chris showed us through the town hall which was built as Canada’s first parliament and took us on a walking tour of Kingston’s historic streets. We even called in to a few shops that really seem to capture the historic vibe of the town.
Carmen piece-to-camera (PTC): So we’re standing in a little alley wall just off Brock street and its supposedly haunted back in the 1800s a woman was murdered here but they’ve never found here body. They say late at night you can see her walking up and down the alleyway. Spooky!
Dave VO: So is Chris a good Town Crier? Get your ear plugs ready, let her rip mate!
Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! Pray heed ye all this crier’s call, proclaimed both loud and clear.
A proclamation of welcome. Turn not on me deaf ears.
I cry the praises of the limestone gem, which lies on lake Ontario’s shore, near the river St Lawrence, where the waters stem through one thousand islands and more.
Now, these thousand islands are quite notorious, their fame worth expressing. As a once refuge for fleeing pirates, now a type of salad dressing!
The limestone gem with all its charms welcomes ye all with open arms.
But in case you think of misbehavin’, we’ve Collins Bay pen, Kingston pen and Mill Haven.
Yes! We’re famous for prisons, in Kingston once nine.
Giving a whole new meaning to ‘come, spend time.’
On behalf of his worship Mayor Mark Garrison, Council, Tourism Kingston, and all authority in the greater Kingston area I bid you all welcome and hope you have a great stay in our historic community.
Here ends this proclamation.
God bless a united Canada, God save the Queen!