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Fenestration Forum: April 2014

Historical currents

April 14, 2014  By Brian Burton

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity and privilege to
photograph and inspect a number of buildings that were constructed in
the 1920s and 30s.

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity and privilege to photograph and inspect a number of buildings that were constructed in the 1920s and 30s. At that time, some parts of Canada experienced very rapid growth as the country finally regained its economic footing after the World War I. We contributed a great deal to the war effort, especially when you consider the size of our population at the time, and the markets for prairie wheat and the manufacturing sector grew rapidly as a result. The end of the war did bring about an economic recession, but by 1921 the Canadian economy rebounded. Canadians also acquired an appetite for what were once considered luxury items like automobiles, appliances and our standard of living, especially with regard to contemporary housing, increased dramatically. There are detailed records available regarding the consumption of building materials and the census clearly shows that in the period between the years 1921 and 1923, and again between 1928 and 1931, the nation experienced strong surges in construction starts and fenestration products played a key role. The primary materials were wood and glass.

Following the Second World War, the same pattern from the ‘20s repeated itself and we experienced another building boom as Canadians migrated in considerable numbers to the urban centers. New home construction was supported during this period by agencies like the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Canadian General Standards Board. By the late 40s and early 50s we started to see more windows constructed using aluminum, and in some cases, steel. Most of these buildings were built in a manner we would call “robust construction,” and the use of masonry, slate and stone was common. Still, when undertaking condition assessments of these buildings we can’t expect them to last forever, regardless of the clearly evident quality of construction. In a few cases the structures are no longer functional or safe by today’s standards.

At the current time we are experiencing another building boom. It is a well-known fact that Toronto has more condominiums under construction than any city in North America. My guess is that these condominium building starts will continue for the foreseeable future. In addition to Toronto, there is a lot of construction activity in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. These four major urban centers are grabbing all the headlines, however, other cities are moving forward as well.


I have read several reports forecasting this increased construction activity to continue through 2017 and 2018. Certainly this is good news for everyone concerned. While inspecting and photographing these buildings, both old and new, I couldn’t help but making note of the quality of the fenestration components. It is obvious, in my opinion, that we are world leaders in the design and fabrication of windows and doors. Yes it’s true this may be partly the result of our climate but it’s also evident that we have fostered the expertise and invested in the technology to remain in the forefront.

As we move forward refurbishment, repair or adaptive re-use are options we will need to consider. Many of the professionals I spoke to suggested that the cost of building replacement is now simply too great. The age of our existing building stock, changing demographics and the continuing rise in energy costs will drive a continuing interest in overcladding. This process involves refurbishment of the building envelope and downsizing of the HVAC equipment. I suspect we will also see a continuation of the trend towards adaptive re-use of entire buildings.

Brian has launched a new venture specializing in technical business writing; Award Bid Management Services /. He can be reached at

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