When you walk into a well-preserved historic home, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. You can sense the house’s history in its walls and envision its previous owners walking across the same floors you stand on.
Historic houses have a special charm that’s hard to replicate in new construction. That charm remains intact partially thanks to a solid roof atop the house. Roofs protect the priceless indoor features of historic homes and contribute to their exterior beauty.
In addition to their practical and aesthetic purposes, roofs make it easier to identify and classify historic homes. Familiarize yourself with the roof features associated with Canada’s historic home styles. Then you can appreciate the grandeur of these roofs, whether you live in a historic home yourself, or just enjoy them from afar.
19th Century Houses
During the 1800s, Canada’s residential architecture mimicked the housing styles common in Britain, France, and the United States. Builders adapted styles based on locally available resources, so some roofs contain traits from several styles.
Many roofs from this style have a single, central gable with a low or medium pitch. This gives these houses a proportioned, geometric appearance similar to classic Greek and Roman buildings. Eaves on classical houses often turn in at the corners to extend the moulding and create sharp, acute angles.
Look for a few other Classical Revival home styles. Some homes have a second gable that extends to one side, starting from the centre of the main gable. Pillars often rest beneath the eaves of this central gable. Row houses built in the Classical Revival style may have flat roofs with tall, thin brick chimneys.
Queen Anne Revival
Queen Anne Revival homes are common in Western Canadian provinces. Traditionally, these large houses have steep roofs, often with tall chimneys and pointed turrets. Queen Anne Revivals may look more restrained in Western Canada. In place of elaborate towers, they have many triangular gables.
Roofs from this style aim for ornamentation rather than symmetry. Finishing touches on these roofs include patterned shingles, rooftop finials, ridge crests, and trim-covered gables. These designs often give Queen Anne homes the look of gingerbread houses.
Square homes with multi-layered roofs often fit into the Italianate style. Each roof layer has a low slope, and each side slopes downward in the hipped (pyramid-like) style. Brackets and other decorative mouldings adorn the eaves on these wide roofs, which hang over the house’s sides.
Square, central towers are a defining characteristic of Italianate homes. The central tower may extend directly through the house’s centre, creating a window-lined observation room known as a belvedere. Sometimes the central tower ascends through the front center of the house, over the main entry door.
20th Century Houses
During the early years of the 20th century, Canadian homebuilders continued to draw inspiration from European architecture. Later, designers combined elements from British, American, Swiss, and Japanese homes to create Craftsman style houses.
Classical Revivals from the 19th century evolved into Neo-Classical homes for the 20th. A house in this style likely features a front gable supported by tall columns, making the façade a modern descendant of Rome’s Pantheon. On its backside, the central gable often met a low-pitched, square hipped roof.
Houses inspired by Edwardian styles step away from the decorative features of Queen Anne Revivals and Italianate homes. Popular during the first few decades of the century, these houses had front gables or gently curved bell-cast roofs with low slopes. Side dormers give these homes extra interior space and set them apart from Neo-Classical houses.
The wide roof overhangs show slight similarities to the overhanging eaves of Italianate houses. Eaves on Edwardian Vernaculars even feature similar eave brackets.
Elizabethan England found its way to Canada between the 1900s and the 1930s as builders created homes with the distinctive Tudor style. Tudor homes have high, steep roofs with multiple dormers and roof projections. Brick or stone chimneys add more height and character to these houses.
Craftsman homes departed from the classical Western influences of other early 20th century houses. They opted for large, low-pitched roofs with several gables. The roof’s shingles often contrast with the house’s siding and features in texture and colour. Canada’s Craftsman homes look vaguely Asian-inspired, thanks to stacked triangular gables and roof decorations.
Use Your Knowledge of Historic Homes’ Roofs
Now that you know the basic markers of historic homes common in Canada, it’s time to apply that knowledge. Take a walking tour of an older neighbourhood in Calgary, looking for homes with these distinctive elements. You might stumble upon a hidden gem.
Are you lucky enough to live in a historic home? Preserve its value by giving its roof regular attention. Watch for common roofing problems, and call in a roofing contractor for maintenance and repairs.