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Hear ye, hear ye! Meet the Quebec City town crier hoping to make information accessible to all

Equipped with a paper scroll, a bell and an umbrella, the newly hired town crier cleared his throat and addressed a crowd in the pouring rain on Wednesday in the Quebec City neighbourhood of St-Roch.

“Oyez, Oyez! Gather around” said Charles-Auguste Lehoux in French.

Some onlookers smiled. Others stopped in their tracks on the sidewalk to listen to the announcements that ranged from employment and volunteer opportunities to where to buy fresh fruit in the municipality.

“It’s a lot of fun to see people all around listening,” said Lehoux.

“You should try it someday, to shout out loud in a public space, it’s a lot of fun. It’s like there’s something almost cathartic.”

Dating back centuries, the tradition of the town crier, once common in Europe, could have an important role in 2023, says Lehoux: to make information more accessible to those with limited literacy or people without access to electronics.

“Most people find it funny. I think that most people think that it’s more kind of an entertainment [or] touristic job, but it’s really not. It’s about the information,” said Lehoux.

“It’s a big plus if it’s a bit of entertainment too.”

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,” said Lehoux.

“Just me by myself, like, shouting in a public park on a Monday morning ‘La la la la la!'”

A man reads from a paper scroll.
A crowd of people gathered in the pouring rain to hear the first edition of the bi-weekly town crier in Complex Place Jacques Cartier. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Town crier ‘short-term solution’

This project has been a long time coming and started as far back as 2019, said Pénélope Dagenais-Lavoie, a project manager for Engrenage St-Roch, the organization behind the initiative.

In 2019, they surveyed the community and found that 66 per cent of people who were in difficult socio-economic situations didn’t receive information that was shared on the internet. She says the pandemic accentuated the problem when everything — including social life — moved online.

“That’s a problem,” said Dagenais-Lavoie.

“That’s how we got the idea to have a physical town crier who is here and makes information more centralized and accessible.”

A woman rings a bell in front of a sign that says St-Roch
Pénélope Dagenais-Lavoie says this project has been a long time coming. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Lehoux reads announcements that are also posted on the community bulletin board in Complex Place Jacques Cartier, a town square.

Although people might expect him to wear an old-fashioned costume during his announcements, Lehoux says his role is less an homage to the history of town criers and more a tool.

He says lots of people still struggle with literacy. As a former music teacher to kids who recently immigrated, Lehoux says many of their parents struggled to read in French because it was not their first language.

“We don’t think about it often, but literacy is really an issue, even in Quebec nowadays,” said Lehoux. Teaching people to read is a long-term solution, he said, but in the meantime, his new job can help.

“I think [this] is a really low tech human-scale solution,” said Lehous. “As a short-term solution, I think town crier is really innovative.”

Crier to continue announcements twice a week, even in winter

Lehoux hopes news of this initiative will spread around town and the town square will become more and more busy each week as he shares announcements bi-weekly at 12:30 p.m. sharp all year round — even in the winter.

A list of announcments
Announcements range from employment and volunteer opportunities to where to buy fresh fruit in the municipality. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

“You just have to dress with really, really warm clothes — and no problem,” said Lehoux.

Lehoux hopes it will be reminiscent of how Quebecers used to gather on the church steps on Sundays to find out all the local news.

“I really hope to create a kind of rendezvous each week where people … can come, meet each other, greet each other, talk a little bit and then hear about the latest news,” said Lehoux

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