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I believe there were a number of reasons and a lot of the cabins in the mountains around here never had a roof but a few did and I believe these were the main cabins with stoves and the others were temporary built shelters for logging and mining camps that were constantly moved to near locations.
It was certainly easy and quick to put up four walls the exact size needed to put a canvas roof over or even a short tent and like swany stated that the snow could be clean off easy, but the only problem with that is that you don't want to touch the inside of a tent ceiling with your hands when snow is on top because it will cause the water to leak, condensate through the canvas. The only reason to clean the snow off is if it get's too deep and then the best way is to shake it off, I put up plastic tarps over my tent but that was not available back in the day. The canvas is also treated and sprayed with canvac to help water proof and protect from ultra violet rays.
Another reason that I believe the canvas was used in addition to being faster is that it did not leak and actually is warm but not as warm as a good heavy wooden roof takes takes more time to construct.
 

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They paint the canvas, or the wood?
 

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I would not do that to my canvas wall tents, I would rather spend the money on canvac spray and be done. That way the tent can still be folded and transported to another location.
 
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