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Firm Tops Off Housing Business

The Toronto Star - Saturday May 29, 1993


Only Santa Claus has stood on more roofs in Ontario than Harry Silverberg and his boys.

It was 1922 when Harry started pushing a cart along the streets of Toronto offering to install new eavestroughs on homes. He called his one-man firm Dominion Sheet Metal.

By the time his oldest son Al joined him in 1947, Silverberg had brought Dominion through the Depression and a world war and now had young legs to carry the firm into the post-war housing explosion.

But it was the arrival of the youngest son, Sid, that sent Dominion to the top in the roofing business.

Young Sid was one of Dominion's fastest eavestrough installers. That's because he would bounce the extension ladder along the wall of the house rather than go back down to terra firma and move it safely to the next position.

But his ability to dance a ladder around a three-storey house wasn't Sid's most significant contribution to Dominion's growth.

"I just thought, what the hell, we're already at the top of the ladder, so why not do the roof, too?

"It was our job to put the eaves on houses, plus the metal flashings where the brickwork joined the roof," said Sid. "But any time the roof leaked the home owner blamed us. We had nothing to do with the roof, but if we were going to be blamed for it, I said we should at least get involved with roofing."

The father and the older brother liked the kid's idea and the company became Dominion Sheet Metal and Roofing Works. And that is why more than million roofs on houses, apartments, offices, factories, schools and churches throughout Ontario can trace their good looks to Dominion.

Last year Dominion celebrated its 70th anniversary and Harry Silverberg still runs the company's day-to-day operations. Not Harry the founder. He died in November 1955, three months before the birth of Harry, his grandson, now Dominion's general manger.

Harry's father, Al and his uncle, Sid are still available around Dominion's production shop on Cartwright Ave. In North York for consultations, but it's Harry who is directing Dominion into the next century.

In their 40 some years in the business, Al and Sid have put the crowning touch on many of the creations of Ontario's biggest builders.

"We worked with the Del Zottos (Tridel) when they started building their first homes in Toronto," said Sid."

"We were doing roofs for Cadillac before it became Cadillac-Fairview. E.P. Taylor had us do the roofs for his first planned community- Don Mills. There aren't many veteran building firms around who aren't clients of ours."

The mining community of Elliot Lake was built under Dominion roofs.

Innovation has been one of the attributes that has kept Dominion on top in roofing.

In the 1950s, the Silverberg brothers promoted the new idea of car ports, which were merely extensions of the house roof out over the driveway. In the early 1960s, the brothers had a tough struggle introducing a new product to home construction- aluminum soffit and fascia.

"It was a tough sell getting builders to try aluminum soffit and fascia. They were afraid their buyers would not accept anything but wood," said Sid.

It was much the same campaign when Dominion first brought vinyl siding to Ontario home construction.

"Bruce McLaughlin (he built Square One and thousands of homes in Mississauga) was our first client to try vinyl siding," said Sid. "He had it for 10 years before it became acceptable to Toronto builders."

"We're always looking for new products and new ways of doing things," said Al.

"The battle against water never stops."

Dominion has an aluminum siding division, waterproofing division, shingle and metal division, which concentrates primarily on new home construction, and a reroofing division for existing homes. And there is also a flat roof division that works with hot tar and serves the industrial - commercial side of construction.

Copper shingles are the latest finishings appearing on the roofs of homes. The shingle has an asphalt base with a thin copper finish.

Harry Silverberg says the time is fast approaching when a steel roof with a life time guarantee will be a standard feature on subdivision homes.



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