Halifax town crier makes history as first in Canada with Down syndrome

Will Brewer was named the official Halifax Olde Town crier on Canada Day in Halifax, a goal he's been working on for two years. Brewer becomes the first in Canada with Down syndrome to hold the position.

HALIFAX—When Will Brewer was walking in the Halifax Pride parade with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last summer, he never expected that the next parade would mark his first event as the official town crier for the Olde Town of Halifax.

“I never thought of that,” Brewer said in an interview.

“It’s going to be awesome. Like last year I walked as town crier but not the actual like peninsula or Olde Halifax crier … This year it will be my very first official duty,” he said of the upcoming July 21 parade.

After two years of trying, Brewer, who has Down syndrome, was named the official Halifax Olde Town Crier at Sunday’s Canada Day event, filling the position that has remained vacant since Halifax’s previous town crier, Peter Cox, died in 2009.

Deputy Mayor Waye Mason threw together an impromptu ceremony when he saw Brewer was at the municipality’s annual Canada Day pancake breakfast on Sunday.

“Making it official passed without comment about a week and a half ago at council,” Mason said Monday.

“So we actually did vote on it. We didn’t tell him, so I had the framed … certificate done and the mayor and (Councillor Lindell Smith) and myself signed it, and I was going to get a hold of his mom and arrange for some kind of moment to surprise him — and then he was there at the pancake breakfast.”

“As soon as Waye said ‘Will, it’s time,’ that’s when I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to happen,’” Brewer said in an interview.

“And of course I was a little nervous, too. I had butterflies, I would say, because when he mentioned that he was going to do it right there on July 1 I felt really warm inside that this was going to happen.”

The appointment opens up the door for Brewer to join the Nova Scotia Guild of Town Criers, which sent a letter to Mason in May inquiring on his status as town crier.

Brewer attended the guild’s annual general meeting in 2017 as a guest but, in order to join the guild, he needed to be officially appointed by “a city, town, or district.” On June 15, regional council voted to select Brewer as the Halifax Olde Town Crier.

HRM currently has three other town criers: Greg Fenwick in Sackville, Bob Raoul in Spryfield, and Jamie Rouse in Eastern Passage.

“It’s a lot of fun, he’s an outstanding young man and he’s really into it,” Mason said of Brewer.

“He really enjoys it, he enjoys dressing up and bringing that excitement, you know, of doing a town crier for lots of events, and he’s been doing it for some time.”

According to the guild, town criers were a fixture of Nova Scotia communities throughout the 19th century, spreading news and making announcements about local affairs. It was Peter Cox that revived the tradition in Halifax in 1974.

Now the position mostly involves attending festivals and events around the community, sometimes making announcements at government events.

Brewer said that being the town crier was never something he had considered until it was mentioned to him by a family friend after Peter Cox died.

“It all started with the help of Renee Forrestall, she’s an artist in Halifax,” he said, whose daughter is popular local artist and designer Marie Webb, who also has Down syndrome.

“And she said, ‘Oh, Will, I heard this job that you would love. It’s a town crier,’ and Peter Cox had the position and [she knew] that the position hadn’t been filled since Peter Cox died, so [she said], ‘I think you should do this Will, you should really do this.’”

Having been invited to speak across the province, Brewer has a long history of activism for people with disabilities. In assuming his new role he is the first person with Down syndrome to be named an official town crier in Canada, as well as the youngest town crier in Nova Scotia, as Brewer is in his early 30s.

He hopes to continue to give a voice to people with disabilities in his new position.

“The reason why it’s important to me is now I can actually do something that I love. Not just more of an activist but also being like the first (with) Down syndrome in Canada to fulfil that duty,” he said.

“I always see the ability, not just in everyone or my friends in my community, but also people with Down syndrome, in particular, because of course they have their own voice but it’s great to have their voice to be, well, yelled through the town crier, as well.”

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