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Reinventing Canadian Masonry

By Mark D. Hagel, PhD, P.Eng.

For thousands of years, masonry has been the building material of choice in many regions, with an infinite number of possibilities of pattern and form. Brick and stone are durable materials that never go out of fashion; they have been used to construct castles and cathedrals, pyramids and great walls, schools and museums, hospitals and high-rises, bridges, roads, and fences.

Although masonry is often imitated (i.e. stamped and synthetic products), very few materials are as versatile and fewer still are as durable. Nevertheless, a noticeable decrease in the use of masonry was accompanied in the 1990s by the increased use of sidings, stuccos, and exterior insulation finish system (EIFS) claddings, along with replacement of the traditional brick fireplace with steel fireplace substitutes in Western Canada.

The stakeholders of the masonry industry in Canada recognized a solid investment was required to preserve their ‘share’ as emerging wall systems began competing in markets traditionally dominated by masonry. Fifteen years later, various industry initiatives, from education to technological innovations, are helping masonry make a comeback.

While numerous articles in Construction Canada have explored the nuances of specific masonry assemblies and detailing, this feature takes a broader view, examining the current state of the country’s MasterFormat Division 04 products and the impending future.

Innovative research

The masonry industry recognized its products had to become more innovative to compete with the emerging cladding systems. Research into such innovations was greatly aided with the establishment of chairs and centres of research excellence at post-secondary institutions to attract top researchers to the field of masonry.

Over the past 15 years, the masonry industry across Canada has created two research chairs at McMaster University (Hamilton) and the University of Alberta (Edmonton), respectively, and a Centre for Masonry Design at the University of Saskatchewan. The Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA) is currently funding 15 universities across Canada. The results have been truly innovative.

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