Town Crier silenced

‘The voice of Valleyfield’ has died and, while I hadn’t given him any thought for many, many years happening on to this story in The Gazette brought back great memories.

Anyone of a certain age from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec will remember this man’s voice as he drove around town making paid announcements via loudspeakers on the roof of his truck (or van, as I recall). We’d think he would never stop talking as he passed our quiet street along two slightly more heavily travelled routes, making his announcement and then, after a beat, starting all over again. This would have been in the 1960s and ’70s, that I remember, although apparently it lasted longer than that. In fact he outlasted home delivery of eggs, bread and milk from three different men – all of which I remember, despite the rigormortis I’m sure any young bucks reading this think must be setting in to my typing fingers.

Now it’s not like Valleyfield didn’t have other forms of media. There was an AM radio station (it’s now FM), although I’m not sure how many would have listened to it (or perhaps so many did that its advertising rates were through the roof – not likely). There was a weekly community newspaper (and now there are two!) with most people subscribing to Montréal’s dailies and watching television from the city as well.

His first year on the job, 1946, was auspicious to say the least. He was hired by Montreal Cottons to bellow at picketing workers in Valleyfield during what was a violent strike, which I wrote about here a few years ago.

Suffice it to say that Antonin (Tony) Guevremont had a good gig for a whopping sixty years! I didn’t know he was thought of as town crier. (I would only become familiar with that term later in Niagara-on-the-lake and Perth, Ontario, but these were/are of the “jolly ol’ England” variety.)

While, according to The Gazette story, he made announcements for quite a variety of causes I vividly remember a few key words that I could pick out with my then very limited French-speaking abilities:

“Attention, attention, s’il vous plait. Bingo bourse ce soir à huit heures à l’église Saint-Eugène…” and I don’t recall what followed. Nevertheless I had all the information I needed, had I wished it: there was to be an evening of bingo at 8 p.m. at St. Eugene Church (a very modern structure which appeared, at least, to have stained glass from steps to steeple – which someone familiar with such things might have mistaken for broken bottles from the nearby Schenley’s distillery).

Completely coincidentally, that building turned up on the police blotter of one of the aforementioned weeklies last week after a suspicious fire. I gleaned from the article that the Roman Catholic archdiocese had unloaded the real estate and plans were afoot to convert it into a seniors’ centre. How’s that for irony? A Catholic church, used more for bingo than anything else since even I was a kid, now being turned into a place where seniors can (still) play bingo!

I think Tony would get a chuckle out of that. In light of the fire, were he still alive (and working) he might have needed to announce the postponement, or outright cancellation, of bingo!