A 19th-century hayloft today acts as the home of Coach House Books, one of Canada’s most important labs of sentence structure
In 1890, the brick coach house located on what is now known as bpNichol Lane, a hidden alleyway near the intersection of Bloor and St. George streets in Toronto, contained little more than hay. Doors on either side of the building opened wide, allowing horses to pull carriages through from one side to the other. At feeding time, the animals’ dinner would drop down from a second-floor hatch. Today, books, computers, and mementos line the former loft, while heavy industrial printing presses and bindery equipment fill the ground floor of what is now home to Coach House Books, one of Canada’s most important laboratories of sentence structure and page design.
Coach House – which recently celebrated both its 50th anniversary and its first Giller win, for André Alexis’s novel Fifteen Dogs – is a rarity among publishers for printing its books onsite, and for acting as an unofficial museum of bookmaking. Upon entering, visitors are faced with an enormous 1917 Linotype machine. Behind it is the favourite object of Coach House founder and publisher Stan Bevington – a 19th-century Challenge press on which Bevington printed Coach House’s first book. Deeper into the cavernous rooms, stashed between bigger, more modern machines, forthcoming titles ready to be glued, trimmed, or bound are piled in wait.
First-time visitors, awestruck by the CanLit import of this small space, might miss the unique features that make it perfect for printing. Bevington is proudest of the cement floors he and his team poured themselves, which allows for large rolling tables to move piles of paper around.
Coach House’s presses constantly orient to new releases and fresh ideas, but this space also harkens back to many past moments – to the reign of hand printing, to the era of Ondaatje’s and Atwood’s first books. Coach House looks backward and forward, to old books still to read, and new ones still to print, keeping history at its heart to fuel the innovations ahead. – Jessica Duffin Wolfe