On the main street in the small Southwestern Ontario village of Erin in Wellington Country are two Victorian commercial buildings that house one of only a few of the Canadian publishing companies that print their own books. The Porcupine’s Quill (PQL), run by Tim and Elke Inkster since its inception, has been publishing books since 1975.
Tim began his career in publishing at David Godfrey’s Press Porcépic in 1971. Soon after, with a flair for the production side of the business, Inkster launched The Porcupine’s Quill as the production arm of Press Porcépic before becoming its own imprint. By 1974 PQL was set up as its own company with their first title, Brian Johnson’s Marzipan Lies, appearing in 1975.
As an artisanal publisher that values the art and craft of the book, both in content and in form, The Porcupine’s Quill has been publishing books using 20th-century offset printing technology ever since to simulate the quality, look, and feel of a 19th-century letterpress product. Even their old logo harkened back to the imaginary demon ‘druckfehlerteufel’ that was often blamed for printing errors and misprints.
They specialize in Canadian art and design, book history and memoirs, as well as producing trade replicas of artists’ hand-printed limited editions. Their Wordless Novels series is quite unique in that these books communicate entirely through visual narratives that are created by wood engravings and linocut images. Popular titles in this series include The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson and Trudeau: La Vie En Rose, both by George A. Walker.
Another important series to the press is their Essential Poets. Over thirteen titles they have presented selections from poets such as Margaret Avison and James Reaney, who are widely considered to be pillars of the Canadian poetry community, as well as reintroducing poets such as Tom Marshall and Kenneth Leslie, whose contribution to Canadian literature might otherwise have fallen into obscurity.
With over 370 titles produced, it’s hard to touch on all the gems in the press’s backlist but one that comes to mind for the Inksters is James Reaney’s A Suit of Nettles. First published in 1958 by Macmillan, PQL produced its own edition in 2010, including thirteen original illustrations by Jim Westergard. All aspects of the physical book were carefully chosen to highlight how the packaging of a book can support and enhance the text within, from the cover stock to the warm red endpapers to the font. The result for PQL was an all-around brilliantly beautiful book.
Other bright spots in their backlist include early works from Russell Smith, Andrew Pyper, Steven Heighton, Caroline Adderson, Annabel Lyon, Jane Urquhart, Mary Swan and Elizabeth Hay; The Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook by George A. Walker recently won an Independent Publishers Award; Don Coles won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1993 for Forests of the Medieval World, and the Trillium Prize in 2000 for Kurgan; finally, P. K. Page was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize in 2003 for Planet Earth, and again in 2012 with Coal & Roses.
With an impressive history like that it’s no wonder that Tim and Elke Inkster were appointed to the Order of Canada in 2008 “for their distinctive contributions to publishing in Canada and for their promotion of new authors, as co-founders of the Porcupine’s Quill, a small press known for the award-winning beauty and quality of its books.”
PQL is very much a part of their local community, and for several years they participated in Doors Open Ontario events, which resulted in a few very interesting videos on YouTube that explain the press’ printing process. If you ever stop by the press you may get to meet Cho-cho and Lee-lee, calico foundlings who patrol the shop and garden, and if you go out back you may see muskrats and herons, possibly even a beaver or an osprey, in the millpond. What is guaranteed though, is finding some excellent Canadian Literature.
There are lots more photos from PQL on their Pinterest page!