Sunday, October 22, 2017
William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, publisher and rebel who became the first mayor of Toronto when the city was incorporated in 1834. He had already been publishing his controversial Reform newspaper, The Colonial Advocate, for ten years at this time. Frustrated, he concluded that the political process had failed him and so in December 1837, he led a rebellion to overthrow Upper Canada’s colonial rule, locally known as the Family Compact. The rebellion failed and Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head placed a one thousand pound price on Mackenzie’s head. William took his family and fled to the United States where he lived in exile until 1850. Mackenzie was re-elected to the Legislature in 1851 where he served until 1858 when he retired from politics, but not from controversy or publishing. His paper was then known as Mackenzie’s Toronto Weekly Message. The picture below shows the July 16, 1859, issue.
The picture below shows a carving of Mackenzie delivering his famous Seventh Report on Grievances to the Assembly. This was his manifesto of all the changes he was demanding of the government. It included three levels of government, all elected by the people, the abolishing of a state church and clergy reserves as well as giving the vote to women.
Mackenzie House, seen in the cover photo was built in 1858 as the middle of three such townhomes. It was given to Mackenzie in 1859 and he lived here until he died in 1861. The house has been serving as a museum since 1950 and has been decorated in the time period of the 1850’s to reflect what it would have been like when Mackenzie lived here. Adults pay an entrance fee of $7.00 and more information can be found on their website. The irons below are typical laundry tools of the period. They were heated in the fire and then used to press the clothes after they had been hung to dry.
In the winter the family would have spent much of its time in the basement as this was the warmest part of the house. Both the kitchen and the dayroom had fireplaces in them and, naturally, only the rooms in use would have been heated.
The master bedroom faces Bond Street and, unlike Colborne Lodge (built in the rebellion year of 1837), it had its own fireplace in the bedrooms. Colborne Lodge, on the other hand, had an indoor washroom and so there was no need for the chamber pot under the bed, seen below. There would have been an outhouse in the backyard of the Mackenzie house, likely about where the printing shop is located now.
The house was built in an era when insulation was unheard of, with the possible exception of old newspapers stuffed in the walls. Winter nights would have been very cold and the bed was heated up before you dared to slip into it. The copper coloured pan on the long handle was warmed in the fire and slid between the sheets just before you crawled into bed.
The second floor has two bedrooms and a box room which would have been used to store hat boxes and boxes of William’s printed materials and newspaper clippings. This room had no fireplace but was likely used as a bedroom when their son George was living here. The girls shared the bedroom at the back of the house, pictured below. One of their daughters, Isabel, lived in this room until she married into the King family. Her son William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister. His actions during World War Two helped move Canada out of the shadow of Great Britain, something his grandfather was trying to do with his rebellion.
One of the antiques in the print shop is known to have belonged to William and that is this case of printing type. On June 8th, 1826 a group of young men who represented the Family Compact broke into Mackenzie’s print shop and smashed his printing press. They took his cases of type and carted them down to the bay where they summarily deposited them. This attempt to silence the constant criticism of the government that was printed in The Colonial Advocate became known as the Type Riots. Mackenzie used this incident as a focal point to create anger over the abuses of those in power as he gathered support for his rebellion.
Mackenzie didn’t usually set his own type, one of his apprentices would have done that. The type that was used on his early newspapers was made from lead and print journeymen tended to have a very short lifespan due to lead poisoning. The letters were laid out in the case so that letters that occur frequently beside each other are placed together in the tray. Originally, capital letters were stored in the upper case and small letters were kept in the lower case. From this practice, we derive the terms upper and lower case letters. A good typesetter would be capable of 22 words per minute.
This press is similar to the one that Mackenzie would have used during the later years of publishing.
Mackenzie House is open 7 days a week as a museum and if you take the print shop tour you can operate the printing press yourself.
Google Maps Link: Mackenzie House
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This is a great building and a good Toronto story. Please let today’s letterpress printers know the source of your information “print journeymen tended to have a very short lifespan due to lead poisoning”. I was not aware of this issue, with proper precautions, most of today’s printers that are reviving this traditional craft should not be affected by handling type.
Mackenzie House has a case of type which belonged to Mackenzie. They told me they don’t use it because it is made of lead. They use newer materials today and the issue of lead poisoning is no longer an issue.
I would think that as long as you aren’t dealing with molten type, or *eating* type, it wouldn’t be an issue.
Great stories! I grew up a few blocks from the Montgomery Tavern location in North Toronto where it appears to have all started. I now think your reference to lead poisoning is more from the lead bullets used in 1837 to put down rebellion and any printed opposition.