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Oct. 15, 2021 | Friday
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NOTL’s town crier will ring in the new year
Dr. Thomas Pekar, NOTL's town crier leads the beginning of the stroll. (Richard Harley/file photo)

Being a town crier means more than donning a period costume and loudly making a declaration.

Dr. Thomas Pekar, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s unofficial town crier, says the role is about making connections and reaching the community.

This year, he was asked by NOTL Rotary Club member Jolanta Janny to help usher in the new year at the clock tower in Old Town.

She remembers when the bells at the Old Court House would chime on the hour. After the daily chimes stopped, she says she would look forward to the ringing of the bells on New Year’s Eve.

“Now, there’s no more chiming,” Janny says.

She wanted to bring back the new year “magic” for NOTL residents, so she reached out to Pekar, who came “highly recommended,” she says.

“My first thought was that I want a celebration for us, the people of Niagara.”

Pekar is no stranger to leading a celebration, having walked at the head of parades in Niagara Falls, Stevensville and Port Colborne. He is notorious for climbing out through the window to the balcony of the Old Court House to introduce the start of NOTL’s annual Candlelight Stroll before leading the march.

He says he wants to help create authentic tourism in NOTL – his role as town crier is his way of transforming people’s impression of the town.

“People come up to me and say, ‘Can I take your picture?’ and I say, “No, but you can give her your camera and you and I can be in the picture together.’ ”

In doing that, he’s helping to create an event – a memorable moment. Instead of, “There was this guy dressed up in funny clothes,” he aims to create a “Kodak moment.”

Pekar became enthralled with the idea of one day stepping into the role of town crier after one officiated at his wedding 25 years ago at Brock’s Monument.

“We had a period wedding. He was so superb as a master of ceremony, as a facilitator. He brought a flair and a pomp to that. How he managed the whole thing, it was spectacular. I thought, if I ever have a chance to be a town crier – I want to do what he does,” Pekar says.

And when the town’s bicentennial approached, he says he saw his chance.

“In 2010, I went to Gary Burroughs, who was mayor at the time. We had this bicentennial celebration coming up. We needed to have a town crier/ambassador,” he says.

“As a town crier, that’s the number one thing that we do in terms of our civic duties, we extend our hello to other people.”

And though the decision to make the designation was deferred to the museum, which was then passed to the bicentennial committee, he says eventually he was named honorary Sheriff of Niagara.

“A member of the historical society said the sheriff did everything that a town crier did except ring the bell. So, in 2010 I was designated as Sheriff of Niagara,” he says.

He assumed the “persona” of Thomas Merritt, who was sheriff of Niagara during the War of 1812.

“As a historical re-enactor that’s the role I played, and I’ve been playing that role ever since.”

He’s since eased into the role, making appearances at Friends of Fort George events and doing weddings and private functions. He says the position requires someone who isn’t afraid to speak in public.

“Not afraid to make a mistake and fool of myself. Not afraid to poke fun at someone in an amicable way.”

When he’s not in character as the unofficial town crier for NOTL, Pekar runs a dental practice in St. Catharines and leads missions abroad to bring dental services to those in need. Any money he earns through his town crier gig goes toward his dental mission fund, he says.

“I’m not out to make a profit. I do it because I love it.”

And the most surprising thing he’s come to love about his role is the people he’s been able to meet, he says.

“To be a town crier you first of all must love people – second of all you must be passionate about your community. And to further the well-being of the community.”

“The best part of the job I had no idea about when I signed up. I get to meet some of the seemingly ordinary, extraordinary people that I otherwise would have never ever crossed paths with. I get to meet the people who do Meals on Wheels, who do hospice, who do the water rescue,” he says.

But more than that, he says he appreciates he is able to brag about those incredible people.

“You get to talk about unsung heroes. I get to meet all of these people, and I get to brag on them – that’s probably the best part.”