Parliament Hill
June 2001 017

Parliament Hill, June 2001 017

June 13, 2001. Photo: Andy Sorfleet

Stone Carver & Mason,
Percival Sorfleet

Percival Sorfleet was born in 1888 in Stamford, England. According to family legend, at the age of 24, Percy was set to sail over to Canada on the Titanic.Luckily he was a bit short on cash, it's said, and Percy ended up catching the next boat.

For several years Percy lived in Fredericton, working as a stone mason. Jobs included work on the Legislative Assembly Building, which had been built in 1882 to replace the building that burned down in 1880.

Percy moved to Ottawa to work on the reconstruction of the Parliament buildings and the Peace Tower following the Fire of 1916. Percy worked as a mason on the Centre Block and his name is included among the 98 names listed in the cornerstone of the Peace Tower. Beside his name is the "Banker Mark" which he had earned the right to use.

Once the reconstruction was finished, Percy went on to work as a stone carver in Toronto, to work on what was to be the tallest hotel in the British Commonwealth. Construction on Canadian Pacific Railway's Royal York Hotel began in 1927. The magnificent hotel's 28 storeys officially opened in 1929 with 1,048 rooms — each with radios, private showers and bathtubs. The hotel also featured ten ornate elevators, a 12,000-book library and a concert hall with a full stage and mammoth pipe organ weighing 50 tons.

Ten years passed and the blank stones which were to be the gargoyles were still uncarved. The gargoyles on the Peace Tower and Parliament buildings are unusual because they were carved after they were set in place. Gargoyles are normally carved before they are laid. The unfinished carvings became a controversy in the House of Commons.

The Government of Canada's Chief Architect, T.W Fuller needed stone carvers with masonry skills, who could hang from the buildings and carve the gargoyles in place. On August 5, 1936, Fuller hired four stone carvers, including Percy Sorfleet, to deal with this task. Percy never claimed to be a sculptor, but he was an experienced and able carver. He was hired on the recommendation of Mr. C. Soucy, whom he had worked with on the Royal York Hotel.

For safety reasons, the carving had to be done while Parliament was not in session. The carvers' contracts had to be reapplied for each year. Percy was hired again in 1937. On an old paystub (Nov. 1 - 15, 1937), Mr. P. Sorfleet, Carver was paid $92.40 for 11 days at $8.40 per day.

Percy Sorfleet died December 17,1942.

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Created: MAR. 16, 2002
Last Modified: MAR. 16, 2002

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