William Lyon Mackenzie (1795–1861) is an important figure in Canadian history. The Scottish-born journalist and politician came to British Canada in 1820, and founded major newspaper The Colonial Advocate by 1824, which often formed part of his outspoken support for republicanism. He eventually turned to politics, becoming the first mayor of Toronto.
His most noteworthy moments, however, were during his status as a figurehead in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837–8. At first a non-violent dispute with the Crown, Mackenzie was one of the first to push for armed rebellion, taking control of many rebel factions and commandeering an armed force. Ultimately he would never see much success and spent a decade in exile within the United States, only returning to Canada when the ‘responsible government’ model was finally introduced.
Only the briefest of summaries captures what an influential and notorious figure Mackenzie was at the time, and still is within the annals of history. There is more than one historic site dedicated to Mackenzie in Canada, but in Ontario the best place to go is the Mackenzie Printery in Niagara-on-the Lake.
The printery is more than a museum of Mackenzie’s journalistic life, although his presence is everywhere in the heritage building that was once his home, with informative displays and details from his time in the area both as a journalist and political agitator. The printery has the reputation of being Canada’s largest operating printing museum. Its prize exhibit predates Mackenzie’s presence on the continent: a Louis Roy Press, built circa 1770. This machine is the oldest newspaper press in Canada, and one of the few surviving wooden presses worldwide.
There are eight operating presses and a linotype, and visitors are encouraged to be hands-on with select exhibits during guided tours.
Generally the printery is open seasonally, conducting tours between May and October, but check ahead for possible updates. Few other sites in Canada are host to both a site of national interest and some of the oldest colonial relics on the continent. Any history buff owes it to themselves to have a look.