Coach House Books, Toronto ON

(Visit date: April 17)

After a stroll down Queens and some awesome Thai food, I drive out to the U of T campus, find some Tylenol to ward off a migraine, and park my car as close to the dot on Google Maps as possible.

By now I’ve visited a lot of publishers. When looking for them I know what to expect: office towers, low-rise buildings, at times even actual houses. For Coach House Books I knew that it was both a publishing house and a print shop in the same space, that the equipment they operated was old, and that they were very unique. But this time I don’t  really know what to look for in terms of structure. This is why when I end up in a back alley, with students yelling to each other from the rooftop patios of surrounding frat houses, I’m very confused.

photo 5

Finally I spot the yellow and red sign—the Coach House logo—hanging above what I assume is a garage. In many ways that’s what it is. Indeed, Coach House Books resides in an old coach house.

I walk around the building and open the only door I see. I’m greeted by a linotype (circa 1917) and a Gordon Press (circa it doesn’t say in the pamphlet, but old).

From around the corner, a man finds me staring at the machines and kindly sends me upstairs. I later learn his name is John and that he is one of three Johns that work for Coach House. I’m waiting for Evan Munday, Coach House’s publicist, and he is on his way.

The staircase to the upper level is wooden and narrow and creaky. I find myself in what I guess is the staff room, complete with a fish tank and some old computer hardware collecting dust. There are hundreds of trinkets placed haphazardly around the room; I wonder how long it has been since someone’s held them. And in the corner, a chair labelled “12. The Magical Sleeper Chair.” I assume it will be part of the official tour and resist the urge to sit in it since I’m not quite sure what makes it “magic” and don’t want to ruin any surprises.

Evan arrives and he’s got cookies!

Evan was offered his current position as publicist  seven years ago while at a party. Coach House needed to fill the position quickly and they knew Evan relatively well. He was hired sans-application and sans-interview.  Before then he hadn’t anticipated working in publicity, but Evan enjoys his work.

“I never feel like I’m promoting a book I don’t believe in.” – Evan Munday.

Evan Munday

Evan Munday explaining how a linotype works.

Soon we are joined by Daniel Zomparelli (of Talon Books in Vancouver) and poet Dina Del Bucchia, who are in Toronto to launch Dina’s most recent book.

Evan guides the three of us downstairs and we start the tour of the print shop. It’s a tight squeeze as we choreograph our way through the machinery: the platemaker, the Heidelbergs, the folder, the gluer, the cutter.

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This isn’t for show. While we’re touring the facility, they are in the process of creating books that will find their way to readers’ hands (in the next few months? ish?).

Dina testing her skills on the gluer, making us some blank poetry books!

Dina testing her skills on the gluer, making us some blank poetry books!

Coach House gives these tours often, averaging about one a week, though there are periods where there are none and then times where they can end up doing as many as three a week. When tours start to stack up, Evan admits it can get in the way of house operations, but he knows that being open to the public and demonstrating what it is they do is important to how Coach House operates both in the publishing industry and in the larger Toronto community.

Being in a space filled with so much history, it feels like I’ve tapped into another world. Evan agrees that at times it can feel like they work in a bit of a bubble and that the richness of Coach House’s history in a way helps to protect the press from any industry fallout. But at its core, Coach House is a small group of people working hard to preserve both present and past via the books they create.

Oh, and the Magical Sleeper Chair? What’s that all about?

The Magical Sleeping Chair.

The Magical Sleeper Chair.

1) It’s a really comfortable chair.

2) One of the Coach House employees lives on Toronto Island (I think it was John?). If he works too late and misses the last ferry home, the chair is where he spends the night.

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