Smooth Operator: William Lyon Mackenzie

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

The story of print is littered with colourful characters from Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor in Europe of movable type, to TE Lawrence the print-obsessed Lawrence of Arabia. These gentleman, plus a host of other men and women, provide examples of the power of print to drive social, economic and political change. On a recent trip to Canada to participate in ISO meetings hosted by Ryerston University in Toronto we came across another key printer and publisher who drove massive change in his country: William Lyon Mackenzie.

Mr Mackenzie was born in Scotland in 1795 in Dundee a town famous for jam, jute and journalism. By the time he was fifteen Mackenzie was contributing to the local newspapers but, following a bit of a hit and miss path involving illegitimate children and bankruptcy, in 1820 he emigrated to Canada.

His initial entrepreneurial efforts were in line with his performance in Scotland: a general store, like the one he left behind, soon went bankrupt. So far so lacklustre, but Mackenzie rapidly progressed from writing for various newspapers in Upper Canada to setting up his own title in 1824. Initially his goal was to influence elections to the Upper Canadian parliament, but this rowdy and mercurial character used print to share grievances and galvanise public opinion to powerful effect. Over the course of his chaotic and almost manic life Mackenzie and his newspapers helped shape the Canada we know today.

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The Verdigris Project investigates the environmental impact of print media and provides information about sustainability initiatives for the international printing community. Keep up to date with the weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner.