Road Trip: Mackenzie Printery Museum

Road-trip-mackenzie-printeryI’ve always loved Canada. Growing up in Buffalo, NY, Canada felt like an extension of home. It is just on the other side of the Niagara river, accessible via four bridges from the greater Buffalo area. As a kid, my family traveled to Canada often, passports weren’t necessary then and traffic was nothing like it is now. There is still something magical about Canada to me. Even with the added inconveniences I still love visiting our neighbor to the North. So when I realized summer was almost over and we still hadn’t taken a trip of any sorts, I set my sites on one of my favorite spots – Niagara-on-the-Lake.

road-trip-mackenzie-printeryFour hours later, and a quick overnight visit with my parents, my husband and I found ourselves wandering the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. If you’ve never been to NOTL, it is a top travel destination for food and wine enthusiasts. With its proximity to Niagara Falls and Toronto, it’s an easy getaway for travelers on both sides of the border. While I made sure we’d hit all my faves – The Horseshoe Falls, Maple Leaf Fudge and the Niagara Wine Trail, I also wanted to make sure we had time to explore. One of the highlights of our trip was a tour of the Mackenzie Printery Museum right in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum is Canada’s largest working printing Museum. Our docent Heather gave us a fun, fact filled tour of the museum along with some hands-on experience on a few of the presses, of which there are over 10 including a Ludlow, Linotype and the Louis Roy Press – the oldest press in Canada. The Louis Roy Press was used to print Upper Canada’s first newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette or American Oracle, in 1793 at Newark, Ontario’s first capital, now Niagara-on-the-Lake. Made of English Oak, the Louis Roy press is the twin to Ben Franklin’s press in Philadelphia.

The museum itself was once home to publisher, William Lyon Mackenzie. Born in Scotland in 1795, Mackenzie came to Canada in 1820, published the Colonial Advocate, a reform paper that openly criticized the Family Compact (Canadian high society, with strong ties to the British Empire), in nearby Queenston on May 18, 1824. For Mackenzie, publishing the paper began a career of public activism for the reformation of the government of Upper Canada which led to the ill-fated Upper Canada Rebellion at York (Toronto) in 1837.

The museum is totally worth a visit if you are nearby the area, not only did we get to set type and use the Albion Press to to try our hand at letterpress, it was filled with a lot of history about the craft. Who knew they used horse urine to wash up the presses? Yes, it’s gross but it has a high concentration of ammonia so it was useful for this job. If you think that’s bad, I don’t even want to tell you what type of animal skin was used on the drums to tamp down the ink. Hint: it’s non-porous, so it comes from an animal that doesn’t sweat through their skin. My husband got a kick out of learning where the expression ‘cut to the chase’ came from and by the end of the tour we were ready to explore the other specialties the region is known for – food & wine.

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