The History of Steel Buildings in BC

The History of Steel Buildings in BC

The old steel buildings of yesterday are a far cry from what you see today.

It might be hard to believe, but steel buildings have been around British Columbia for nearly a century. Of course, they didn’t truly start to become popular for civilian use until after WWII.

The first recorded use of a metal-framed structure occurred during the industrial revolution in Britain, which ran from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. Wanting to reduce the risk of fires in their textile factories, owners chose steel over wood for their structures.

These structures weren’t nearly as sophisticated or esthetically pleasing as the pre-engineered steel buildings you see today, but it helped architects and draftsmen understand some of the important benefits of prefabrication for construction, which include:

  • Streamlined manufacturing process
  • Reduced build times
  • Building durability


Arched vs Straight-wall Design

The US military was one of the earliest adopters of what we now call pre-engineered steel buildings. They used Quonset-style buildings, which feature steel panels secured to a curved steel frame, for their airplane hangars, barracks and other structures. They were simple to build and very cost-effective.

It wasn’t until later that the straight-wall design, which resembles a traditional building more closely, became more prevalent. They offered several advantages: 

  • More efficient use of building space
  • More customizable
  • Greater range of applications 

The straight-wall design uses several key components—namely walls, roof, frame and bracing—that are designed to work together to provide superior structural integrity. They utilize universal connections and fasteners to allow for ease of construction.


Buildings in BC

Due to the availability of wood as a natural resource in British Columbia, it has long been a go-to building material in our region. Back then, it was cheap, and there was lots of it. 

It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s, when advances in pre-engineered technology made steel a more competitive option, that owners of industrial and agricultural operations started to take notice. At first, they were used for simple structures such as steel warehouse buildings and other storage facilities. 

For more on this, read: Why Custom Steel Buildings Make Great Commercial Storage Spaces.

Fast-forward to the early 1980s, when IBM launched its first PC, which led to the widespread adoption of computer-aided design (CAD) technology. This greatly enhanced the capabilities of architects and engineers to produce more customized structures to serve a wide range of needs. 

Today, companies like Metal Structure Concepts erect pre-engineered buildings in all sectors across Western Canada, including: 

  • Agricultural
  • Industrial
  • Commercial
  • Multi-use facilities
  • Retail


In some cases, it’s difficult to tell whether a building has a steel or wood frame, as there are numerous ways to clad the exterior. From the aesthetic appeal of wood and stucco, to the practicality and durability of metal siding, the options are endless.


With three generations of steel building expertise, Metal Structure Concepts has the skill and experience to carry out any project across Western Canada. Call us for a free, no-obligation quote.