Last Sunday, I returned home from Cranbrook,
the town in the East Kootenays where I grew up, saddened by a change I hadn’t
noticed before. The owner of a vintage
house on 9th Avenue replaced his cedar shake roof, the handiwork of my
late father and me in the 1980s, with grey asphalt shingles. The long days of work my father and I had
done the summer I was fifteen had vanished.
My father worked as a high school teacher, but there never seemed to be enough money around for our family, so he ran a roofing business on the side, a trade he learned in Switzerland as a young man. He roofed with asphalt shingles mostly, but his love was hand-split cedar shakes. We cut shake bolts from mounds of old growth cedar the local logging company had abandoned as waste. In our backyard, we split shakes with a steel froe and a birch mallet, row after row of sweet-smelling shakes that my father declared would keep a home dry for 75 years.
Even now, after 30 years of sun, rain and snow I can still pick out a shake roof my father installed. His hand-split shake rooves lie a little unevenly, not like the uniform, flat rows of the mechanically sawn shakes he scorned. My Dad’s shake rooves had character: bumps, wrinkles and undulations as if something large moved beneath the surface. These rooves still remind me of him, of the long winter nights he spent in sub-zero temperatures working alone, long after the final school bell rang, to support us when he was just starting out as a teacher. He came home early one winter night — he’d fallen for the first time from the roof of a single storey rancher into a mound of snow. My mother was incensed — she feared there would be more falls, because he never wore a safety harness — but they both knew our family needed the money.
My father’s work is vanishing now. One of his shake rooves on 14th Avenue blew off in a violent windstorm. An owner on 2nd street didn’t like the faded look of sun-bleached shakes and so replaced them with silver-grey shingles. I can see the change coming to a three-storey house on 11th Avenue. The shakes at the peak look a little loose – I don’t have the heart to go to the owner and say I think you need a new roof.
I won’t take you to the last roof my father worked on. By then, his last shake roof was long behind him. My mother and I had warned him to stop roofing, because at age 55 he’d fallen 30 feet and escaped with just a concussion and a sore hip. “When I came to,” he said, “I thought it was morning and I had to get up and go teach.”
He was 57 on the day of his last fall. I’ve never been on a roof since.
by Wayne Chan | May 3rd 11:55 am
My daily commute is like a small gear of mechanical time, of epicycles upon epicycles, where days turn to months and to years, and the seasons cycle through. The rhythms of time are constant, but the changes they bring are not.
by Brendan Harrison | Apr 12th 12:54 pm
When white supremacists moved into my neighbourhood, I was forced to reconsider what community meant to me.
by george ilsley | May 3rd 1:44 pm
The neighborhood of Broma in Vancouver (around Broadway and Main) used to have salmon streams and a temperate rainforest. Now it has hipsters.
by Monica Meneghetti | May 2nd 11:45 pm
Queer Banffites come in every stripe but, like other wildlife, most of us are well-camouflaged.
by Christin Geall | May 3rd 10:16 pm
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away.
by Andrew Boden | May 1st 10:42 pm
My father worked as a high school teacher, but there never seemed to be enough money around for our family, so he ran a roofing business on the side, a trade he learned in Switzerland as a young man. The fruits of his craft are vanishing now.
by Andrew Boden | Apr 13th 11:21 am
A man who looked almost identical to the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges used to walk his German Shepherd through our neighbourhood of Forest Grove in Burnaby.