Wesco Cedar

A Brief History of Cedar Through the Ages

Throughout history the wood from cedar tress has been prized for its beautiful color, hardness, exquisite fragrance, and it’s resistance to insects, humidity and temperature. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures used the wood for building ships, temples, and houses.  The aromatic wood and bark was used as incense in religious ceremonies and even to treat illnesses.

In North America, the related species “Western Red Cedar,” was pivotal in the development of Native Cultures, as it was used in canoe building, the construction of plank houses, and in religious and cultural ceremonies.

Western Red Cedar is found throughout the coastal district of British Columbia and in some valleys of the interior, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest in the US.  It is the largest growing cedar in North America and can attain an actual diameter of 15 feet or over and a height of 200 feet.  In the forest it is generally 3 to 8 feet in diameter and from 125 feet to 175 feet in length.

In more recent times, namely in the late 19th century, cedar shakes and shingles became the main source of roofing material for public buildings as well as homes.  Many National Park buildings in both Canada and the US were originally constructed of cedar, with cedar shingle roofing.  The accurate restoration of these historic structures has been a concern of park service officials in recent years. 

Today cedar shingles are out to length and thickness from the best part of the tree, the heartwood.  Shingles are sawn flat on both faces, which distinguish them from shakes, which are split along the grain.

Cedar shingles are typically more expensive than asphalt shingles but they give a historic appearance and texture that cannot be attained with modern products.  The longer durability of Western Red Cedar shingles also outweighs any initial savings using a different product.

Did you know…

  • The Cedars of Lebanon are mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known literary works?
  • Concern for the Biblical Cedars of God goes back to 1876 when the 102-hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall, which was financed by Great Britain’s Queen Victoria?
  • Cedar was used to build King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem?
  • Cedar is mentioned 75 times in the Old Testament of the Bible?
  • Some northwest coast Native American tribes refer to themselves as “people of the Red cedar” because of their extensive dependence on the tree for basic materials?
  • Because of its resistance to decay and insect damage, the wood of large trees remain sound and can be salvaged and cut into shakes for roofs even 100 years after it has fallen.

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