ROY, LOUIS, printer; b. 24 May 1771 in Quebec, son of François Roy, a tailor, and Marie-Louise Lapérade; d. 22 Sept. 1799 in New York.
In 1786 Louis Roy became an apprentice in the printing shop of William Brown, printer and owner of the Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Quebec. After Brown’s death in 1789, Roy continued to work there for Samuel Neilson, Brown’s nephew, probably as a journeyman printer. It was in Montreal, however, in Fleury Mesplet’s shop apparently, that the new lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Colonel John Graves Simcoe*, found him and hired him as the first king’s printer for that province. Reaching Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), the capital, early in the autumn of 1792, Roy on 4 November made out his first requisition for equipment needed for the printing shop. But his order apparently was made too late, given the navigation season, for him to receive the equipment before the spring of 1793. Hence he probably purchased some of it at Quebec from his former employer, Neilson, including a second-hand press with which he was able to fill some printing orders by January. Thus, one of the first printed pieces in Upper Canada was an eight-page brochure entitled Speech of His Excellency John Graves Simcoe, esq; lieutenant governor of the province of Upper Canada, &c. &c. &c. upon opening the first session of the legislature . . . . Then on 2 and 7 February he published official proclamations by the lieutenant governor.
On 18 April 1793 Louis Roy launched the Upper Canada Gazette, or American Oracle, a semi-official weekly newspaper, which was continued until 1845. The paper, which consisted of four two-column pages, appeared in English only, except for a few official documents translated into French. Advertisements and government announcements left little space for local news but, in compensation, at least one page of each issue had articles reprinted from European periodicals. This was one way in which the small population of Upper Canada could keep abreast of the events of the French revolution. Roy’s paper was superior in the quality of its printing to that published by his successors. He is supposed to have printed about 45 numbers between 18 April 1793 and 31 July 1794. The last bearing his name came out, however, on 29 Aug. 1794: it was a supplement announcing a British naval victory.
Roy had assumed his post officially on 1 Oct. 1792, and in the early autumn of 1794 he left Upper Canada, never to return. On 29 October a final money order was issued in his favour; the salary being paid for the period to 31 Dec. 1794 amounted to £35 3s. 4 1/2d., including a supplement for his keep and other needs. It seems that Roy enjoyed good salary terms, but too much work, a life of isolation, and the illiteracy of part of the population probably prompted his departure. He returned to work in Quebec, likely in the shop of John Neilson*, whose brother Samuel had died in 1793. By 8 July 1795 it was clear that he wanted to settle in Montreal. He had already bought a printing shop there, intending to publish a newspaper. He received help from his brother Joseph-Marie, who was also a printer, and on 17 August his Montreal Gazette/Gazette de Montreal was launched. For nearly two years Montreal was the scene of a newspaper war. Indeed, concurrently with Roy’s newspaper Edward Edwards* published one with the same name. Edwards had purchased Fleury Mesplet’s printing shop shortly after his death in 1794.
In his capacity as postmaster Edwards seems to have had easier access to international news. On many occasions he prevented foreign periodicals from being delivered to his competitor. Roy consequently found himself limited to local news. In addition he lacked equipment, and the clientele was too limited to support two printing shops. Consequently in 1797 he was forced to hand his newspaper over to his brother Joseph-Marie and to emigrate to New York. Roy’s Montreal Gazette ceased publication in November that year, since Joseph-Marie and John Bennett, a former master printer in John Neilson’s shop, did not succeed in their efforts.
It seems that Roy’s departure for New York may also be accounted for by the prevailing political situation in Montreal. Roy, who was known for his republican principles, perhaps had not remained deaf to the approaches of the emissaries of republican France. Thus it is possible that he left Montreal to escape harassment, hoping at the same time to find an environment for work that would be more in keeping with his political ideas. In New York he worked at the Argus, Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, a newspaper founded in May 1795 whose foreman he soon became. He held this position until his death from yellow fever on 22 Sept. 1799.
The announcement of his death in this newspaper spoke of him in very flattering terms: “We condole with our Republican friends upon the loss of this Genuine Patriot and truly honest man; and we regret sincerely that we have occasion to record the death of such a worthy character.” Louis Roy left in mourning his brothers Joseph-Marie and Charles and a sister, Louise-Olive de Saint-Paul, a member of the Ursulines of Quebec. Charles would become the publisher of the Canadien in 1806.
ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 25 mai 1771; Greffe de J.-A. Saillant, 3 sept. 1768. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, II, 154. Tremaine, Bibliography of Canadian imprints. Burke, Les ursulines de Québec (1863–66), III, 336. Gundy, Early printers. Canadian book of printing; how printing came to Canada and the story of the graphic arts, told mainly in pictures, ed. Marie Tremaine (Toronto, 1940). William Colgate, “Louis Roy: first printer in Upper Canada,” OH, XLIII (1951), 123–42. P.-G. Roy, “L’imprimeur Louis Roy,” BRH, XXIV (1918), 77. W. S. Wallace, “The periodical literature of Upper Canada,” CHR, XII (1931), 5.