The religious architecture of New France

The religious architecture of New France provides the first examples of the use of slate roofing in Canada. The initial churches, stripped down imitations of the monumental classic architecture of 17th-century France, used foreign building materials. The 1666 Jesuit church built on the Place du Marche at Quebec, and designed in the form of a latin cross with a bell tower at the transept crossing, had a French-slated hipped roof. A second example was Notre-Dame-de lTmmaculec-Conccption established as the parish church of Quebec in 1664.

Seminaries and roofing company Toronto also used French slate. At Quebec, the Jesuit College was slate covered and the second Ursuline Convent was partly roofed with slates. Accounts indicate that the nuns bought 38 000 slates in 1674 and paid Maltre Robert Pepin “piqucur d’ardoise” for installing both slates and shingles.

In 1687, 36 000 slates, with 300 feet of lead and 60 000 nails were sent to Montreal from the port of La Rochelle in France to cover the Sulpician seminary then being built.

French slate also covered several of the public buildings of the civil administration of New France. Inadequate slate supplies meant that several materials were frequently used on the one roof. In 1716 the Intcndant’s Palace was roofed with both boards and slate. The King’s Engineer Chaussegros de Lery wrote the Conseil de Marine in 1721 urging double the amount of slate be sent to the colony in order to cover the boarded King’s buildings at Quebec. “Roofs in slate last a long time,” he noted, “and the repairs are not as big as for a shingle roof that requires frequent replacements and repairs”. The use of slate roofing for official buildings in Quebec was observed by traveller Peter Kalm who recorded in 1749, ” The roofs of the Public buildings are covered with common slate which is brought from France because there is none in Canada.” French slate was also installed on the barracks of the King’s Bastion built at Louisbourg in the 1720s.

Both legal and practical steps were taken by the authorities of New France to extend the use of slate roofing to private buildings particularly in the towns. After a Fire which destroyed 138 buildings in Montreal in 1721, Intendant Michel Begin issued an ordinance that all houses there should henceforth be built of stone and covered with a double covering of boards “until it is possible to use tiles or slate.” A comprehensive building code for all the towns in the St. Lawrence Valley, issued in 1727, forbid shingles, specified roof framing and again recommended slate or tile covering.

Between 1728 and 1733, efforts were made to open a roofing-slate quarry at Grand Etang on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River between the seigneuries of Rimouski and Trois Pistoles. Samples sent to France were judged of good quality. De Lery himself covered his house with the local slate and Intcndant Hocquart bought 101 600 slates on the King’s account for roofing the palace and powder magazines.

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