their generally perceptive “Introduction”
to the Canardian Poetry Press edition of Mary Buchanan’s
Piggy (c.1915), Susan Bailey and D.M.R. Bentley note
Buchanan’s influence on succeeding poets like
H. Isabel Graham and acknowledge her artistic connection
with such major recent writers as Margaret Atwood, Aritha
van Herk, and Margaret Laurence. What Bailey and Bentley
fail to point out, however, is Mary Buchanan’s
relationship with preceding writers. To be sure, Buchanan
provides a fresh and innovative look at the pig, but
she is also derivative, owing a debt to such writers
as Susanna Moodie (Roughing It in the Bush
) and Catharine Parr Traill (The Backwoods
of Canada  and The Canadian Settler’s
Guide ). Buchanan’s work is important
in its resolution of a dichotomy evident in the pioneer
writing of Traill and Moodie—namely, is the pig
a valued and much-loved friend or merely a commodity?1
In her resolution, or perhaps her balancing of two points
of view, Buchanan anticipates van Herk’s Judith
 and Robert Krouch’s “An Erotics of
later in the present century.
suffers, becoming flat and one dimensional, because
of her reluctance to acknowledge the pig as companion.
The Backwoods of Canada, in fact, entirely
ignores the pig (as either companion or commodity),
and while The Canadian Settler’s Guide
mentions the pig, all comments are impersonal and detached.
The focus is on meat and meat by-products, not on the
pig as a living, sentient creature:
the goodness of pork, ham, and bacon depends upon
the meat itself—the breed of hogs—and
their treatment in fattening.
A great deal of the
barrels of pork sold in the stores, is coarse, loose,
flabby pork—distillery-fed, or else nut-fed;
the swine having nearly fattened themselves in the
woods on beech-mast, acorns, and such food. This pork
is known by its soft, oily fat; the meat running away
to oil, in the act of frying. Of course, meat like
this is not profitable to the buyer. (153-4)
with facts and figures: price, measure, weight. She
talks about ham, bacon, and lard—pork, rather
than pigs. Her voice is coldly impersonal as she describes
curing meat (150-154), making lard (154), boiling soap
(167-171), cooking with lard (99, 103), and removing
“paint, pitch, cart grease” (171) with lard.
Although in one instance she advises her reader, “Rub
your ham. . . with fine salt” (152), this should
not be seen as an invitation to intimacy, or even to
friendly contact. Instead, for Traill, the only good
pig is a dead (albeit well-fed) pig. It is difficult
to say why Traill avoids the importance of the pig as
companion. Perhaps she had her hands full taking care
of her chronically depressed husband. Or perhaps an
admission of either friendship or the need of friendship
would undercut her assumption of the role of the ideal,
capable pioneer woman.
Susanna Moodie, however,
enjoys—indeed, wallows in—ambivalence. As
has frequently been observed, Roughing It in the
Bush is rife with contrasts and contradictions
in narrative voice, for example, and a tension between
forestry and eroticism inheres even in the book’s
But oddly enough, no-one has examined such ambivalence
as it relates to Moodie’s treatment of the pig.
For one thing, as a pioneer, Moodie bows to the inevitable,
accepting the importance of necessity—whether
planting corn, baking bread, or eating a pet pig. Yet,
unlike the more pragmatic Traill, she shows another
side as well; to Moodie, there are other values, a life
beyond the merely practical.
With animals in general,
like men, Moodie displays divergent points of view.
In “Disappointed Hopes,” a key chapter in
Roughing It in the Bush, she sees a “noble
buck” (356) chased by Indian hunters. Rather than
cheering for the hunters, she says that her heart “leaped
for joy” (357) when the deer escapes. Here the
deer is romanticized, and Moodie ignores the probable
need of the hunters for food. Later in the chapter,
when she and her family are hungry, the tone changes,
and Moodie is delighted when her servant, Jacob, shoots
and kills a “fine buck” (358) which will
feed them for some time. Note the change in diction:
the deer seen in the distance when she herself is not
hungry, is “noble” and picturesque; the
deer seen at close hand when she is starving is evaluated
in terms of meat—“fine” and nourishing.
(Similar contrasts are found in the descriptions of
Mr. Moodie; for example, when he leaves to fight in
the rebellion, he becomes a romantic figure, and when
he comes home . . . .)
But the ambivalence with
respect to men and animals becomes especially pronounced
in Moodie’s treatment of the pig. On the one hand,
emulating her sister Catharine Traill, she describes
the pig as a commodity. When “six fat hogs”
(357) are destroyed by a “ruffian squatter”
(357), Moodie’s chief concern is for the loss
of the product: “The death of these animals deprived
us of three barrels of pork, and half-starved us through
the winter” (357). A different view emerges when
she turns from pigs in general to one in particular.
Spot, “a very pretty little pig” (359),3
is a household pet, beloved by the children: “.
. . he always received his food from their hands at
the door, and followed them all over the place like
a dog” (359). The allusion to dogs is significant
since dogs are virtually the only animals Moodie does
not cook and eat. Indeed, Hector, her “noble hound”
(359), is the pig’s best friend, even sharing
a bed with him in “the hollow log which served
him for a kennel” (359).
As has already happened
with the deer, however, when hunger looms, admiration
and friendship wane. After the Moodies have eaten the
venison, they begin to cast hungry glances at Spot,
and, as Jacob says to them:
. . .
’tis no manner ov use our keeping that beast
Spot. If he wor a zow, now, there might be zome zenze
in the thing. (359-60)4
as a member of a lower social order, Jacob must necessarily
be lacking in sensibility—hence his murderous
suggestion. (Jacob has also shot the deer, remember.)
Unfortunately for Spot, the Moodies concur with Jacob;
Mrs. Moodie’s physical needs take precedence over
her metaphysical needs. Spot is re-labelled an “uncouth”
pet (360) by Moodie and summarily slaughtered by Jacob.
Neither Moodie’s daughter Katie nor the noble
Hector will eat the pig. Their refusal highlights the
importance of the pig as friend and makes the rest of
the family appear more than a little cannibalistic.
The ambivalence continues,
and the unhappy Spot is mentioned again in Roughing
It in the Bush when the pig’s grave5
becomes the final resting place for two other murdered
companions. The pig is now known as “the pig that
Jacob killed” (398), Moodie evidently washing
her hands of the whole affair and her part in it. In
her denial of responsibility and her burial of the remains,5
Moodie honours Spot and elevates him from pork chop
back to companion. Finally, then, through her eating
then sanctifying of a valued friend, Moodie sets up
a cyclical pattern which echoes forward to Mrs. Buchanan’s
use of Christian symbolism as noted by Reverend Frank
Furter in his “Piggy and the Last Supper: The
Aesthetics of Communion.” But Moodie seems unaware
of the implications of her actions, since at this stage
in the narrative, a gentleman houseguest, John, kills
a cat and a dog named Tom and Chowder. Significantly,
these pets of Moodie’s good friend Emilia are
killed for eating the Moodies’ food—robbing
them of essential commodities—and Moodie does
not protest. Here as elsewhere, the value of the commodity
supersedes the importance of the friend, and Tom and
Chowder are murdered, then laid to rest with Spot, all
three victims to backwoods necessity.
The dilemma, largely ignored
by Traill and unresolved by Moodie, is resolved or at
by Buchanan in Piggy—and to a
lesser extent, in “Duckies” as well. Mrs.
Buchanan follows Moodie’s lead when she tells
us that the pig is an important companion. She says,
“the pig is a pard” (l. 11), the colloquialism,
“pard,” indicating an easy, lower-class
camaraderie like that displayed between Hector and Spot.
Buchanan goes a step farther, though, when she comments
that “the pig is a friend that will last to the
end” (l. 13). Here she seems to be indicating
a spiritual level to the friendship that goes far beyond
Moodie’s tentative attempts at a porcine-human
relationship. In addition to celebrating the pig’s
ability to serve as a companion, Buchanan treats the
pig as a commodity: “But there’s meat—juicy
meat—and spare ribs so sweet” (l. 5). (The
conjunction “but” used traditionally to
begin a strong alternative point of view is used by
Buchanan to introduce the pig both as friend [l. 13]
and as meat [l. 5].) The poet moves from the listing
of meat dishes—“There’s the head and
the feet, and the carcase complete” (l. 7)—to
the enumeration of by-products: “And there’s
lard—snowy lard—sometimes soft, sometimes
hard” (l. 9). Buchanan is derivative of Traill
in her valuing of specific pork products, especially
lard. The lard mentioned by Traill in The Canadian
Settler’s Guide is a key ingredient in her
recipe for success in the backwoods, and maintains its
importance well on into the twentieth century, as is
evident in Buchanan’s poem.7
Buchanan, then, celebrates
equally two attributes of her porcine acquaintances;
her pigs are at once companion and commodity. One is
not valued at the expense of the other. Stanza three
shows an equal weighting of these ideas, for two lines
are given over to the commodity and two lines to the
companion. The last stanza, however, is the strongest.
Buchanan describes the pig as at once mischievous, “on
mischief oft bent” (l. 29), and gentlemanly, “the
pig is a gent” (l. 29); he is a friend, “a
corker” (l. 30), and a product, “a porker”
(l. 32). These balanced phrases with their balanced
rhymes place equal value on both aspects of the pig.
The movement towards a
balanced representation is well thought out by Buchanan,
appearing elsewhere in her work as well. A similar demonstration
of balance and order occurs in “Duckies”
where she begins by expressing friendly admiration:
“Ducks can beat them all” (l. 8); “Don’t
they have a jolly time?” (l. 13). And she ends
by saying, “Off goes duckies heads” (l.
26), a reference to the slaughtering of the friend to
serve a practical purpose—feather beds and “juicy”
meat (l. 39).
While writers may deal
with other animals—ducks and deer and the like—the
more serious Canadian artists consistently return to
Strangely, the pig has generally been ignored by the
Northrop Frye, for example, has not fitted the pig into
his explanation of a “garrison mentality.”
The omission of the pig from critical writing is to
be regretted, and the serious treatment of Buchanan’s
Piggy by the Canardian Poetry Press may begin
to rectify the error. Buchanan’s pig, like other
literary pigs, has something of value to offer, but
as Stephane Éscobigh says in a pointed bit of
understatement, “Piggy has long been
marginalized, thrust to the outer limits, the borders,
boundaries, edges, slippages, marshes, margins, gutters,
parerga of our discipline” (176). Among
the poetic and prosaic celebrants of the porcine, Mrs.
Buchanan emerges as a pivotal figure; she takes the
vague ideas of earlier writers and fuses them into a
powerful portrayal of the bonds which exist between
a woman and her pig.
Studies in Canardian Literature 17.1 (1992):
development of the pig as friend undoubtedly has its
origins in the early days of settlement in Canada
when neighbours were few and far between. A woman
might well be glad of the companionship offered by
her pig. [back]
Krouch is one of the few male writers to focus on
the pig; see his “The Fear of Pigs in Early
Canadian Poetry.” Men more generally stay away
from the porcine, possibly because the pig in literature
is usually male as noted by Rosemary Stuffing in “This
Pig Which is Not One” (69), and the neutering
and then slaughtering of the male pig for meat would
obviously prove threatening. [back]
Atwood, in the Journals of Susanna Moodie,
sees Moodie’s voice as “paranoid schizophrenic,”
but she does not comment on Moodie’s Spot. The
name “Spot,” in fact, may link Moodie
to Lady Macbeth (“Out danm’d spot,”
etc.), another deeply divided character. [back]
the importance of the female in the backwoods. Far
from being marginalized or suppressed, women in Canada
have traditionally been empowered, as the valuing
of the sow by Jacob makes evident. Remember, also,
that the male pigs are neutered or they are unappetizing.
The male, then, from the very beginning in Canada,
has been emasculated, sidelined, margarinized, and
reference to a burial is odd since there would be
very little left of Spot to bury. [back]
Robert Krouch says, “Mrs. Buchanan is ever more
the postmodernist” (121). [back]
rethinking my 1991 book, The Pioneer Woman: A
Canadian Character Type, I have, in the best
contemporary tradition of on-going critical discourse,
decided that the approach should be changed to recognize
the paradigmatic value of lard. [back]
Elizabeth Legge, Art Curator at the University of
Toronto, has noted the valuing of cows over pigs in
traditional English landscape painting. It is her
contention that the development of a Canadian tradition
necessitates the rewriting of the genre to include
the pig in the landscape. [back]
eminent scholar W.J. Kouth can be credited with the
late twentieth-century discovery of Mrs. Buchanan’s
Piggy in his “Piggy Scrutinized.”
[Not true—Ed.] [back]
Walter. Piggy. Ed. Susan Bailey and D.M.R.
Bentley. London: Canardian Poetry P, 1991.
Stephane. Rev. of Mrs. Walter Buchanan’s Piggy.
Canardian Literature 131 (1991): 175-77.
Frank. “Piggy and the Last Supper: The Aesthetics
of Communion.” The Sacred Union of Pork Producers
of Ontario 10.2 (1992): 3-7.
Peas Shall Destroy Many. Toronto: McClelland
and Stewart, 1977.
Kouth, W.J. “Piggy
Scrutinized.” Canardian Poetry: Studs, Documents,
Reviews 6 (1980): 25-34.
“The Fear of Pigs in Early Canadian Poetry: An
Erotics of Pork.” Open Litter, 8th series,
4 (1992): 116-26.
Roughing it in the Bush. 1852. Afterword Susan
Glickman. New Canadian Afterword Library. Toronto: McClelland
and Stewart, 1989.
E. “The Meadowlark Lemon Tradition: Popular Basketball
Verse of the Canadian Prairie.” Assays on
Canardian Writhing 18-19 (Summer/Fall 1980): 145-66.
“This Pig Which Is Not One.” Cahiers
du bif 5 (1992): 20-28.
Parr. The Backwoods of Canada. 1836. Afterword
D.M.R. Bentley. New Canadian Afterword Library. Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart, 1989.
Parr. The Backwoods of Canada. Afterword D.M.R.
Bentley. NCL. Ed. David Staines. Toronto: McClelland
and Stewart, 1989.
The Canadian Settler’s Guide. Intro.
Clara Thomas. New Canadian Library. Toronto: McClelland
and Stewart, 1969.