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King of the Shingleers: Mastering work and building community

Anxious to start building, the group embarked on the backbreaking job of clearing the land. Co-op member John Blake filmed throughout the build and captured the camaraderie and team spirit present from the very beginning.

The arduous work continued with the shovelling of cement. In an interview years later, Bill Joyce recalled that, as “there was no [cement truck], you’d shovel the gravel, the stone, and the sand.”

Black and white photograph of a man shingling a roof

Howard Mantle shingling a house in the Sherbrien-Cathedral Heights co-op in 1955, during the early days of the build.

Black and white photograph of two men shingling a roof

John Colleary, in white cap, and fellow builder John Rowan shingling on Lakeside Drive in Spring of 1955.


Despite the often gruelling tasks, the bonds between the builders were strong. When John Colleary was nicknamed “King of the Shingleers,” fellow co-op builder Wilf Worley wrote a song to honour him. Such was the good-natured atmosphere on the building site. Friendships rooted in the early days of the build grew into lifelong connections.

faded colour photograph of a man in a suit in front of a house

Wilf Worley wrote the song for John Colleary, 1955.

black and white photograph of a man with his shirt sleeves rolled up holding a hat

John Colleary, King of the Shingleers








Bill Joyce noted that the co-op members trained for certain tasks they already enjoyed, citing “Ed Duerden who loved to paint and was good at it.” As time went on, they honed their skills. As Bill recalled, on the first house building “a subfloor – tongue and groove on the diagonal – probably took ten of us a whole night, or four hours to do. Within five or six houses it was down to three guys and done in an evening, two nailers and one guy sawing.” As the build progressed, so did their ingenuity. Don Gay recalled ordering trainloads of drywall and wood for a better quality and price.

Black and white photograph of men working on a roof

Shingling the Andrew’s, Fozards and Chaves’ houses of the Lakedale Co-op in early 1956.


Carpooling between Hamilton and Grimsby was a necessity and brought its own adventures. Bill Forbes recalled “the time [they] ran out of gas, [and] Al Parsons had to leave his watch with the gas station and come back the next day with the money to pay for the gas.”

Shingling on Stewart Street – John Blake FootageWatch the video with the transcription (EN).

John Blake delights the audience with “King of the Shingleers” (subtitles available in FR and EN).  Watch the video with the transcription (EN).

Click to hear the audio and read the transcript of Bill Joyce speaking of everybody working to their potential