Video – Cragg Enjoys a Few Last Hurrahs

In Community, Local

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
With retirement as Alnwick-Haldimand Township crier looming, Liam Cragg is enjoying a few last hurrahs, bringing home a fourth-place finish at the Ontario Provincial Championships in Petrolia last month, as well as an invitation to compete in an October international competition.

Announcing his intentions in January to step down after the Petrolia competition (as well as his hopes that a replacement would volunteer his or her services), Cragg now thinks he might also take advantage of the chance to compete in Bracebridge and Hanover prior to the October competition in Provincetown, Mass. Looking ahead to that one, he’s been hitting up MP Philip Lawrence for a Canada flag and pin to take with him, along with the Ontario flag and pin he got from MPP David Piccini.

Petrolia won the chance to host this year’s provincial championships in conjunction with the municipality’s 150 birthday celebrations. Ten competing criers took part, along with several non-competing ones. That group includes benchmark crier David Rose, who was also benchmark crier when Cobourg and Grafton hosted the event in 2019 (and is a past president of the American Guild of Town Criers). As well, the crier of the host municipality (Les Whiting, in this case) typically performs emcee duties for the competition which took place in a bandshell in Petrolia’s own Victoria Park.

Competition cries were 100 to 125 words, based on three assigned themes – a home town cry, horses (or the RCMP Musical Ride), and historical or heritage Petrolia.

Humour is a hallmark of a Cragg cry. His one on horses was full of atrocious puns, and the one on Petrolia was actually sung to the tune of the Beverley Hillbillies theme song. Nevertheless, he placed fourth overall. First place was taken by Mark Molnan of St. Catharines and Lincoln, a town crier for 20 years (it’s getting more common to see town criers represent multiple municipalities, Cragg said.

American crier Daniel Gomez Llata was there from Provincetown, looking forward to his first opportunity to host a competition in October at the American National Criers Competition, and Cragg was one of the criers approached with an invitation to compete. Gomez Llata had been required to have a minimum number of criers to make it an official competition, including at least eight international entrants.

“I am all keen to go, because I wanted to attend at least one international competition,” Cragg declared.

Because Provincetown is a haven for the arts, he added, “we have been told we will have at least one drag queen as a judge, so I am looking forward to that.”

Every competition not only consists of the cries. Organizers also typically try to have an itinerary to entertain these visitors and show off a little.

Petrolia had a Friday-night reception for competitors, attended by Chatham crier George Sim, whose story about serving as Fergie Jenkins’s personal crier upon his Hall of Fame induction is always a hit with any baseball fan.

They received their goodie bags and important papers and looked forward to competition the following morning.

After two morning cries and lunch, they went to see the RCMP Musical Ride (which happened to be in town that weekend), where they were guests of honour.

At the Saturday night banquet, he was lucky enough to sit with the Mayor of Petrolia and his wife, and also enjoyed a teaser performance from a local Gordon Lightfoot Tribute show.

Sunday brought final cries as well as a junior criers competition. This was a heartening thing for Cragg to see, as he has some concern for the future of crying. Whenever he’s going to be at an occasion with children, he brings along the lightest bell he owns and lets them share bell-ringing duties.

In one way, it’s gratifying to see how long some of the criers at competitions have been active in the pursuit – 40 years for three-time world champion Chris Wyman of Kingston, for example, and 37 years for David McKee of Brantford. When he decided to retire, Cragg’s fondest hope was to find some relatively young person who might one day achieve such milestones.

“I put the word out to try to find people. Three responded. Two of them decided it’s not for them. The third never got back to me,” Cragg reported.

Asked why he wants to retire, he said, “I’ve done it. I’ve enjoyed it. And I wanted to be around to mentor someone – there’s no handbook.”

Appointed December 2016, Cragg was self-taught and innovative. For example, for date-related things like birthdays, he might work an on-this-date-in-history surprise into the cry. On one occasion – Hugh Wilmer’s 90th birthday and 65th wedding anniversary – he interviewed Wilmer in advance to get important highlights to feature in his cry. He learned the important features of an event cry vs. a personal-occasion cry, and how to do the best job on each.

It wasn’t long before he was a beloved part of civic events like New Year’s Day at the Grafton Legion and calling the municipality’s Canada Day celebrations to order. And even though retirement is looming, he will – one more time – open the popular Grafton Christmas Market in December.

And while these memories hold a fond place in his heart, Cragg has always believed that competitions matter too. As he put it, “a town crier is an ambassador for your town. How can you be an ambassador if you never leave town?”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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