History comes alive at hands-on museum

The Mackenzie Printery in Queenston, Ontario is no ordinary museum. The building is the house where William Lyon Mackenzie lived and worked in the 1820s. He printed a newspaper here called The Colonial Advocate before moving to York (now Toronto) and becoming famous as the leader of the ill-fated Rebellion of 1837.

But the house was not really about Mackenzie. It was about the development of printing, showcasing different types of presses. On display were heritage presses from the 18th century, including a rare wooden Louis Roy press and the more common Albion metal press. From the mid 19th century, different sizes of platen presses, which evolved to make the inking process faster, were on show in various rooms. But it was the linotype machine that revolutionized the publishing industry in the 20th century, with its automated method of setting type. It was not superseded until the advent of computers in the late 20th century.

But what I thought was neat was that the museum was not a static display. Most of the presses were still working machines. I had the opportunity to set my name in type using individual metal letters and have the composing stick inserted into a broadsheet on a press. I then “pulled the devil’s tail,” meaning I pulled the lever which pressed the paper and type together. It was only after the tour guide removed the paper from the press, that I realized the broadsheet was actually a certificate of indenture. I had just promised to work for the Printery for seven years!