Long considered one of the leading small-press publishers in Canada, Coach House Press was founded in 1965 by printer Stan Bevington and editor Wayne Clifford. In its formative years, Coach House was a cohesive printing and publishing unit, publishing innovative and activist open-form writers from the United States and Canada in a style characterized by hand-set type and multi-coloured offset printing. In 1974, the single literary editor, who at the time was Victor Coleman, was replaced by an editorial board consisting of Coach House writers and other members of the staff, including Bevington, writers bpNichol, Michael Ondaatje, Frank Davey, David Young, graphic artist Rick/Simon, and writers’ agent, Linda McCartney.
During the 1974-1988 period, the press expanded its scope to publish established writers, such as D.G. Jones, Louis Dudek, Eli Mandel, Dorothy Livesay, Robert Kroetsch, Phyllis Webb, as well as emerging writers. Diverse titles produced include Ondaatje's The Long Poem Anthology
(1979) and Bowering's Fiction of Contemporary Canada (1980), various titles on the history of Canadian photography and architecture and a Quebec translation series of works by Ferron, Brossard, and others. In 1991, Coach House was split into two separate companies: the printing house Coach House Printing, headed by Bevington, and the book publisher Coach House Press, headed by Margaret McClintock. Bevington subsequently tried, unsuccessfully, to reacquire the publishing company. Ultimately, the book publisher declared bankruptcy in 1996, and later the same year Bevington moved the printing company back into book publishing.
The reputation of the new Coach House has been growing steadily since its rebirth in 1997, but it skyrocketed with the publication of Christian Bök’s Eunoia. This work of experimental poetry won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 and has sold over 19,000 copies. Coach House books have been the recipients of dozens of other awards and nominations, including the Governor General’s Award, the Toronto Book Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Lambda Book Award, the Books in Canada/Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the Trillium Book Award. In 2008, Coach
House was awarded the Province of Ontario’s inaugural Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for Arts Organizations. Coach House has been at the centre of a number of innovations in the use of digital technology in publishing and printing, from computerized phototypesetting to desktop publishing. Notably, the pioneering SGML/XML company, SoftQuad, was founded by Coach House’s Stan Bevington and colleagues Yuri Rubinsky and David Slocombe. Coach House is one of the few Canadian publishing companies that prints its own titles. The printing operations also print books for several other small Canadian publishers and literary magazines.