Quebec-born Louis Roy, a superior typesetter, was the first printer of the first newspaper in Upper Canada.
At age 15, Louis Roy (1771-1799) began his printing apprenticeship with William Brown, owner of the Quebec Gazette. He continued working there, likely as a journeyman printer, when Brown’s nephew Samuel Neilson inherited the business.
Quebec Printer Louis Roy
Louis Roy was working in Montreal when the new Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, hired him to set up a newspaper in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). His employment agreement that included a good monthly salary and a supplement for living expenses began October 1, 1792.
With supplies and a second-hand wooden screw press purchased from his former employer, Roy organized the new printing shop, and filled printing orders by January 1793. One of his first jobs was an eight-page brochure with Simcoe’s speech made at the opening of the first session of the Upper Canada legislature.
First Edition of “Upper Canada Gazette”
Louis Roy issued the first publication of the Upper Canada Gazette, or American Oracle April 18, 1793. Under the auspices of the government, its main purpose was to deliver official statements, proclamations, and decisions to the populace.
As typesetter, Roy selected individual letters imprinted on metal, assembled them into words and text on a stick. He or a hired pressman then inked them and impressed them on sheets of paper. In the hands of a well-trained, experienced printer, the task could be completed fairly quickly with as many as fifty copies in an hour.
The government was a hard taskmaster whose constant demands often seemed unreasonable and made life difficult at times. The superiority of Roy’s typesetting skills was never in doubt, but when he failed to print the first parliament’s statutes on time, Simcoe demanded that he improve the service. While stating that he had been unwell, Roy promised to publish government material on time.
When Simcoe learned that the good, sturdy paper on which Roy printed the paper was from an Albany, New York supplier, he demanded that only Canadian or English paper purchased from Montreal be used.
“Montreal Gazette” Published by Louis Roy
Tired of the demands and the isolation, Louis Roy submitted his resignation. He published his last issue of Upper Canada Gazette August 29, 1794, and then departed for Montreal. In all, he had printed about 45 numbers, all superior in quality to those of his successors.
In 1795, Louis Roy, with his brother Joseph-Marie, also a printer, purchased a printing shop and launched their newspaper, Montreal Gazette. At about the same time, Edward Edwards started up a newspaper with the same name. As Edwards was also postmaster, he had more extensive coverage of international news provided by foreign periodicals. Edwards often failed to deliver copies of those periodicals to Roy. In 1797, Louis turned the Montreal Gazette over to his brother, and moved to New York. Later that year, Joseph-Marie ended publication of the paper.
Within a short time, Louis Roy was foreman at the Argus, Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser. When the yellow fever was raging in the city, many people fled, but Thomas Greenleaf decided to continue publishing his paper. Louis Roy, superior artisan, first printer of the Upper Canada Gazette, died of yellow fever September 22, 1799 in New York City.
- History of the Book in Canada: Beginnings to 1840 by Patricia Fleming, Gilles Gallichan, Yvan Lamonde, University of Toronto Press Inc., 2004
- The Upper Canada Gazette and Its Printers, 1793-1849 by Brian Tobin, Ontario Legislative Library 1993