Polychrome Slating in Quebec and Atlantic Provinces

In Quebec and the Atlantic provinces polychrome slating was unusual in religious architecture. Part of the reason was the minor influence of the High Victorian Gothic in these regions. During the period the Quebec Roman Catholic church attempted to reinforce its faith through the construction of Neo-Baroque churches while as late as 1880 churches of Protestant denominations in the Eastern Townships tended to adopt conservative Gothic Revival forms rather than the aggressive volumes of the High Victorian mode. An unusually high number of “townships” churches appeared in the CIHB slate roofing printout, but photo verification revealed slate work done by roofing contractor was invariably plain and uniform in colour. Quebec churches with polychrome slate roofs were designed by Canadian architects of British origin. The zigzags and variously cut slate bands of St. Matthew’s Church in Quebec (re-designed and rebuilt in the 1870s) and the still surviving diamond slate design of St. George’s Anglican Church, Montreal, were the products of William Thomas and his son W.T. Thomas respectively. SL Luke’s, Waterloo, Quebec was the conception of Thomas Scott while the 1874 Wesleyan Methodist Church in Asylum with its bordered bands of x’s was designed by Langley, Langley and Burke. In the Meantime, regionally a typical patterned slate roofs of unknown provenance, appeared on St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown and the still beautifully intact purple and green slate roof of Park Lodge in Halifax Polychrome-patterned slate roofing was also part of the Second Empire style which shared the Canadian building stage with the High Victorian Gothic in the 1860s and 1870s. Named for its association with the court of Emperor Napoleon III of France, the Second Empire style featured three-dimensional composition using mansard roofs, pavilion massing and rich sculptural detailing.

Variously cut and colored slating was part of the style’s repertoire as was carved key stones, pilasters and columns and picaresque roof elements like iron cresting, dormers and clocks. Together, they created the plastic vitality for which the style was so famous. In Canadian port imitation of this expensive urbanistic model led to great emphasis on decorative slating. It was as if slate, now increasingly available by rail, could give mansarded buildings lacking the complex massing and sumptuously carved detail of the prototypes, some pretention to Second Empire grandeur.

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