The strange history of Summerside City Hall’s peculiar pig




SaltWire Network

Prince County

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Summerside City Hall has been standing for over 130 years and with it has been a littleknown community mystery etched in stone. In the early days of July 1885, groups of Summerside residents had reportedly gathered around the newly finished building to inspect a peculiar carving over the large wooden doors of the building's Summer Street entrance. The community members were perplexed because on the side of the new building, built between 1884 and 1885 to serve as a post office and to represent the federal government, was the carving of a pig and several pigeons or prairie chickens gathered amongst stocks of corn. Those details come from an article in the July 7, 1885, issue of the Pioneer, provided to Saltwire by MacNaught History Centre and Archives in Summerside. The article reads that residents were confused at why the barnyard animal had been etched in stone on a freshly minted government building. “Whilst admiring it they wonder that amongst the stalks of corn and prairie chickens, a representation of a pig should be there, seeing as the animal was not a favourite with the ancients, neither is it with many at the present day,” reads the 137-year-old article. Over the years, the question of where the pig came from has been brought up repeatedly, with stories emerging in the community which claimed to explain why the carver had chosen to carve it. Another such story was published on page three of the Journal Pioneer on Jan. 11, 1961. The story claimed that a local man, who was originally from Portugal, was commissioned to carve a rabbit and several doves into the stone above the door. Reportedly, a disagreement followed between the tradesman and the project's contractor, leading the carver to plan his revenge. “To vent his rage, he carved the head of a pig in the stone instead of a rabbit, which was supposed to be there, and the deception was not discovered until the building was completed and open,” said the 1961 article. In the original July 7, 1885, article the Pioneer gave another potential source of the carving when it said a Mr. Cox was responsible for the carvings. But Cox didn't exactly give the reporter a clear answer to why he carved a pig. Cox told the Pioneer the pig was supposed to be a coyote or a fox and that he could hardly account for how he came to carve the pig. “Somehow as he chipped away, with each tap on the chisel, in spite of all he could do, the outlines of a pig would appear,” reads the article. The Pioneer goes on to speak of a rumour that spread through Summerside, alleging some strange force or mysterious person was actually responsible for the carving. “When he left off at night and returned next morning, rumour says, the work was further advanced, as if someone had been working all night. It is mysterious and unaccountable, but there it is.” “Many think it's not a fitting device for a Dominion Custom House, but as it is there through some apparently unseen agency, no one can be blamed.” Though sources paint a murky picture of what the carver's motivation was, Jean MacKay, an archivist and curatorial assistant at MacNaught History Centre and Archives in Summerside, said the evidence doesn't seem to support the disgruntled worker theory. “I would love to have the record set straight that it probably wasn't someone doing it on purpose,” said MacKay with a laugh. “It was some craftsmen who was following his trade and the stone just wanted to be shaped in that form,” she added. MacKay said that documents and smaller stories in the paper throughout the building's construction named the carver as Joseph Cox, a man who immigrated from England to St. John, before settling in Summerside in 1883. “He was working with the stone, it was supposed to be a fox, and the stone just did not want to be carved that way and in the end, he just went with what the stone was telling him.” “I think that's the true story, they say that about stone carvers, that things will reveal themselves.” According to his obituary, published in the P.E.I. Agriculturalist on July 9, 1910, Cox opened a marble business and would later get involved in Summerside's civic affairs and became a town councillor for several years. He was described as a good citizen, who was highly esteemed, but eventually succumbed to asthma at the age of 72. We will never know if it really was a tricky stone, or if perhaps Cox was the disgruntled worker, or if someone really did carve the pig in a mysterious midnight session, but whichever it is, Summerside's peculiar pig will always have an interesting origin story.