The Advancement of Slate Roofing Technology

At mid-century the great English critic John Ruskin saw scale decoration on the northern or steep roof as an appropriate symbol of the waterproofing armour of the fish scale. On steep domestic roofs, there is no ornament better than may be obtained by merely rounding or cutting to an angle, the lower extremities of the flat tiles or shingles thus the whole surface is covered with the appearance of scales, a fish-like defense against water, at once perfectly simple, natural and effective at any distance.

Ruskin placed great emphasis on the decorative value of dormers, finials and fringes. Beyond the use of scales, he saw little additional need for further enriching roof ornamentation. It would be left to others to translate his enthusiasm for polychrome masonry effects into colour arrangements in slate roofing.

Ornamental scaling of the type recommended by Downing and Ruskin was not widely implemented in slate roofs in Canada for slate at this stage was just becoming available. Yet studies of the Gothic Revival, show that Toronto roofing contractors were informed of developments in the Gothic Revival and in some instances used diamond and round scale roof decoration in other materials.

Ornamental slate scaling was identified by the CIHB in Gothic-inspired houses at Madoc and Brantford, Ontario. The round angled slates at Yates Castle in Brantford were typical of the early Gothic Revival but their arrangement in bands of black alternating with green and red signaled the arrival of colour which soon became the characteristic trait of slating in the High Victorian mode.

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