It was in a small, Queenston
printery that William Lyon Mackenzie let out his rebel yell. Enraged at
the 'Family Compact', Upper Canada's rul;ing political clique,
Mackenzie put his disgust into words with the advent of the Colonial
Advocate. The first issue rolled off the press in 1824, and Canadian
politics had a new, powerful voice to contend with.
Scotland-born Mackenzie wasn't concerned
with profits - he already
owned a country store in Queenston. It was his passion for political
reform that led him to publishing. Using the Louis Roy press, which
churned out Upper Canada's first paper, the Upper Canada Gazette in
1793, Mackenzie's voice reached the masses on May 18, 1824. The
Advocate's first issue contained poems, classifieds, agricultural
advice, and Mackenzie's own political rabble-rousing. It was published
every Tuesday and cost five pence per issue.
It didn't take long for his attack on the Family Compact to rile Upper
Canada's leaders. Soon after publication bagan, work began on the
General Brock monument, and during the opening ceremonies, a copy of
the Advocate was placed in the foundation stone. A furious Sir
Peregrine Maitland - Lieutenat Governor of Upper Canada and head of the
Family Compact - halted construction and ordered much of the masonry
torn down to remove the paper from its interior. The Advocate, he said,
was a "colonial rag".
Later that year Mackenzie moved his family and press to York so he
could reach more people and be closer to his political enemies. He even
led a failed rebellion in 1837, but it wasn't until 1849 that a
political evolution spawned his long-sought responsible government.
With Mackenzie's former home deteriorating, the Niagara Parks Comission
begin restoring it in 1935. Three years later, it was re-opened in 1938
during a ceremony by the country's Prime Minister, William Lyon
The Commission purchased Mackenzie's original press and planned on
turning the homestead into a printery museum, but it didn't
materialize. The press was loaned to Mackenzie's Toronto home, and the
Queenston site became Niagara's municipal offices until 1958. It was
home at the Kirby Collection until 1974, and it wasn't until 1990 -
during celebrations for Portage Road's 200th anniversary - that the
Mackenzie House got back to its roots. Mackenzie memorabalia was
showcased, and the next year, the home hosted a collection of heritage
hand presses and displays on the history of printing. In 1992,
the Luis Roy Press returned to its rightful home. It had been on
display at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.
Visitors today can enjoy eight operating
presses, a working linotype
and the litography studio of Canadian artist Frederick Hagan.
You might also take notice of the two large
locust (acacia) trees
growing near the printery's entrance. In 1854, Mackenzie planted a row
of locust trees to celebrate the Advocate's 30th birthday, and as he
wrote. "to commemorate the day that had transformed a quiet,
peaceful obscure trader into an ardent colonial politician and public
censor." Two of his original five locust trees remain standing as a
living memorial to an early Canadian publisher and political activist.
Did You Know?
Block Books - Most books produced before the invention of movable tape
were written by hand. However, there were a few books printed from
complete pages carved on wood blocks. They were usually of religous
nature with more ilustrations than text. It was easier to cut pictures
than letterforms in wood, and few people could read anyway.