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For Whom the Bell Tolls

At the Oct. 20 meeting of the Halifax Regional Council meeting, council voted 11-5 to follow a staff recommendation to cease looking for a new town crier for Halifax. This followed a search conducted by the staff earlier this year which drew no candidates. But the question arises, how did this vacancy first come to rise?

The city of Halifax and the surrounding communities, while they had not had town criers for the largest part of the 20th century, would have the tradition resurrected by Peter Cox, a world famous for his town crying in the 1970s and 80s.

Cox would be the Halifax Town Crier for much of this period, serving in the role until his death in 2009.

During this time, Halifax would be a centre of international town crying. Until 1990, the city hosted in the city’s Historic Properties the Halifax International Town Criers Championship under the influence of Cox, a major competition in the field. A plaque still commemorates these competitions in the courtyard of the Historic Properties to this very date.

Since his death, though, town crying in Halifax has fallen onto hard times.

Cox had been grandfathered into the position of the Halifax Town Crier when amalgamation occurred in 1996. As such, the position had not been adequately defined and the process by which a successor was to be appointed was unclear.

In 2013, a motion was passed by Councillor David Hendsbee (District 2 – Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore) to both appoint an interim Town Crier, who resigned shortly after appointment, and to have a competition to fill the position.

The competition, launched in the spring, was advertised as any other position is by the City, but no individuals came forward.

Talking with city staff, this entire process was done in association with the Nova Scotia Guild of Town Criers (NSGTC), and was in part based off of the process by which the city has made its appointment of the Poet Laureate. During this, some awkwardness present within the position emerged.

While in the past, Peter Cox had been the Town Crier for Halifax, at the present there are town criers for other communities throughout the Halifax region – Greg Fenwick in Spryfield, Bob Raoul in Spryfield, and Jamie Rouse in Eastern Passage.

But the position, as it had been in the past and would be by appointment, would put in interesting hierarchical issues, where this process undertaken would’ve been appointed by the office of the mayor, and as such would be above these council level town crier positions.

As the late Peter Cox’s functions as town crier had been mostly within the former city of Halifax (largely falling into districts 7-10), this would suggest that an appointment may wish to be made at such a level and not a citywide level, like those Town Criers in the outlying communities of the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Difficulty itself would also arise from the nature of the position. The position would receive $300 a month from the city and throughout the year would be asked to cry at specific town events and ceremonies, hardly a livable wage. This could be supplemented by acting on commission as a representative of the city, for example, crying out towards the cruise ships and tourists as they frequent through the Halifax waterfront, an activity which would be hired out by the Waterfront Development Corporation throughout the summer and fall.

As such, the position proper would not be one viable for many. As Paul Forrest, the Civic Events Coordinator who has been working this process for the city of Halifax, the position was one which would likely need to be filled by a retired individual. It was not a position by which one would be able to solely make a living through.

As such, the recommendation for the city to cease actively looking to fill the vacancy was brought forward, a recommendation with the support of NSGTC. While a few councillors, such as David Hendsbee (District 2 – Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore) and Bill Karsten (District 3 – Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage) had very active interest in maintaining the staff be actively involved , the council as a whole agreed that the process would be best guided by the city working with the NSGTC rather than following formal process which has failed to produce results thus far.

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