Wood Shingles | A Once Ubiquitous Crown

“Their contractor warned wood shingles was more expensive and yet also, not as good. Their contractor was a coward. That last one was my assertion, and it still is!”

Editorial By: Tom Cross | Photography By: Dr. Christopher Cooper & Tom Cross

Prince Edward Island

Wood shingles were once the most ubiquitous crown of homes throughout North America.  The twentieth century arrival of asphalt shingles ended that rein, but it did not end the wood shingle itself.  While it can still be found crowning well attired homes to this day, its’ bastion is now as the robe of many a fine wall.

Wood shingles as a wall covering stems from a very practical and utilitarian beginning. Something that has not changed in many areas. It was only a matter of time before the wood shingles aesthetic beauty would be recognized as well.  Throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, architects and builders were playing with shingles like children playing with arts and crafts. Shingles were cut into diamonds, fish scales, clipped corners and more.  They were laid with arrangements that included isolated patterns within a wall, patterned rows, changing styles at each floor level, changing of reveals and much more.  Even the plain undressed wooden shingle would find itself in the center of vouge with the emerging of the Shingle Style of architecture in 1880.

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

So, where did they all go?  To the east coast?

Well, ok, they didn’t hop a train and head east, rather they remained there in greater numbers than many other places.  They can still be found in almost any community, but the truth is that their numbers are declining.  Many being covered behind vinyl siding.  Like wood shingles before it, vinyl siding hailed for being cheap and easy however, unlike wood shingles, vinyl is not beautiful, it does not allow for creativity and it brings an environmental nightmare that none of the other building materials are allowed to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner.

Nova Scotia

Now if you talk with folks enough, it becomes apparent that people almost always prefer the look of wood shingles over vinyl siding.  So why are they disappearing?  Why do these very same people choose vinyl siding when their own shingles have reached the end of their 80-100 years of wall covering?


A good answer came from a couple looking to have their dormers re-clad.  Their plan was vinyl siding. They told me why:  They did not know where to get wood shingles (neither it seemed did their contractor).  Their contractor warned it was more expensive and yet also, not as good. Their contractor was a coward.  That last one was my assertion, and it still is!  When a contractor pushes you away from an upscale option, away from something that has already stood the test of time on your home, away from something with more value for you and themselves, they are afraid to rise to the challenge.  Their skills are limited and basic. And so likely is the knowledge you are depending upon them for.


Although choosing wood shingles may cost more, they more often are still the option that provides more value.  And because the cost difference is smallest on small dwellings or tiny areas such as dormers, they are a great opportunity to have your dollar go further in the value it adds to your home.  It is also a value that makes your home more attractive, makes coming home from work more pleasant, lifts your neighbourhood with character and cheer.  In the example above the added expense was expected to be just a couple hundred.  And because it was only the shingles nearest the roof deck that were poor, wholesale replacement wasn’t needed and the cost in fact was just slightly less than the silly vinyl.

Prince Edward Island

Choosing to repair, replace, or return to a wood shingle cladding is very achievable for many owners of a small and humble abode. If returning to shingling that was lost or covered, you will discover the charm and beauty that you probably did not imagine.  And the impact on such a home’s value will be clear when one looks over to the drab plastic box next door.

The Old House Restoration & Repair for Homeowners – A new approach to help historic homeowners get the high quality, research-informed information they need to repair and restore their most valuable possession… their homes! Now you can take our award winning course from anywhere in the world!

Sunday, November 28, 2021 at 12:00 – 3:00 pm+

Article Author: Tom Cross | Owner/operator of Tom Cross Restoration

Tom Cross is an Edifice Guild Approved Restoration Specialist in the province of Ontario. Tom specializes in restoration of wooden soffits. Visit his page on our Guild Resource Directory for your next restoration project in Southwestern, Ontario.

Stockist & Guilds Members

For Shingle Repair and Installation in Prince Edward Island: Contact Michael O’Grady

For Shingle Repair and Installation in Nova Scotia: Contact Sherlock Homes

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dr. Robert J Carley says:

    When the cedar roof shingles on our 1856 stone house in Ontario needed replacing, there was no debate. We re-roofed with cedar shingles, this time with a layer of cedar breather underneath. Old houses had sufficient air flow from the attic through the shingles, (and vice versa) to allow the shingles to dry out properly, thus reducing root and extending the life of the shingles. With newer houses having well sealed roofs and attics, shingles will not be able to breathe and dry out. A good cedar breather corrects that. That technical necessity aside, the look of cedar shingles is the only one that an older house should have. Modern cedar does not have the lifespan (100+ years) of first growth cedar, but will still outlast asphalt shingle roofs. And a metal roof just somehow does not suit a historic house. So, cedar it is.

  2. D.Blaney says:

    Just like Dunedin in Brussels.

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