Coach House profiled in National Post's Toronto magazine
Sarah B. Hood of the National Post profiled the Coach House in a recent edition of the National Post's Toronto magazine. Read on for a little Coach House history.
House comes with an asterisk
Sarah B. Hood, National Post
Published: Saturday, March 24, 2007
Ignore the cracked pavement: bp Nichol Lane (off Huron Street, south of Bloor) is something special. Just check out the letters engraved in the ground: "A/LAKE/A/LANE/A/ LINE/A/LONE," a short piece by the late poet and editor bp Nichol (1944- 88), the lane's namesake and a key figure in its history. (Puzzle- solvers will note with satisfaction that the longer words form one of those sequences where each is just one letter different from the one before.)
Along with the likes of Michael Ondaatje and Atom Egoyan, bp Nichol was published by Coach House Press, headquartered since 1968 in a cozy, cramped little 1890s red-brick coach house farther down the lane. Whereas most publishers print books only figuratively (by sending them off to printing houses), Coach House isn't afraid to get its hands inky. The selfproclaimed "asylum for the aesthete, sanctuary for the scribe" is also a repository of relics from an age when a word was something to linger over.
Crammed into this two-storey curiosity shop are elegant, obsolete and specialized implements of mass instruction, like drawers of lead type from which ampersands, asterisks and em-quads are still hand-picked for special jobs. There's the handcranked VanderCook press that bp Nichol himself used to print his own editions of Birth of O and little pome for your fingertips. And then there's the Gordon Press with its lovely, solid cast-iron flywheel.
"It's a stunning example of the Industrial Revolution," says "head coach" (i.e., founding publisher) Stan Bevington. "When printers used the Gutenberg style of press, they were able to print two or three hundred sheets a day. That machine made it 2,000 sheets per hour. That's huge. That's even a bigger change than we get with the modern computer."
Coach House welcomes visitors twice a year: at Doors Open (May 26 and 27) and at a laneway party each September.
- Sarah B. Hood is the co-author of Toronto, The Unknown City, published by Arsenal Pulp Press; she continues her urban explorations a unknowntoronto.blogspot.com.