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Petit Calumais – Stone Pipe usage among Canadiens

As I have written articles on tobacco bags, tobacco, and kinnickinick; it is perhaps time to look at pipes a bit. Although the European styled clay pipe was ubiquitous, for French-Canadians (canadiens) and Mètis, native-styled stone pipes (petit calumais) were also rather common. Although this is not surprising that Mètis would use a native style pipe, the fact that canadiens did as well may be surprising to some. This however is seen in a variety of written records, some images, and is hinted to by the archaeological record.

One of the first places where we see this being mentioned as common place for canadiens is by Swedish botantist and traveler, Peter Kalm. He twice mentions, in his journal, the common usage of stone pipe by canadiens.

“… the French in Canada, in many respects, follow the customs of the Indians, with whom they converse every day. They make use of the tobacco-pipes, shoes, garters, and girdles of the Indians… they mix the same things with tobacco…” (Kalm vol 2 Pp. 379)

“All the tobacco pipe heads, which the common people in Canada make use of, are made of this stone, and are ornamented in different ways. A great part of the gentry likewise make use of them, especially when they are on a journey. The Indians have employed this stone for the same purposes for several ages past, and have taught it the Europeans. … The tubes of the pipes are always made of wood” (Kalm vol 2 Pp. 361)

The use of stone pipes by canadiens is also mentioned by Alexander Henry in the 1760s. In his journal he states, “The pièrre a calumet is a compact lime-stone, yielding easily to the knife, and therefore employed for the bowls of tobacco-pipes, both by the Indians and the Canadians.” (p.24)

The fact that canadiens are making these pipes is backed up by invoices in the Montreal Merchants Record Project. Pipes seem to have been made on a large scale by a few different makers in Montreal but among them, Etienne Gibeau becomes well known for this.

Inventory of the stores of François-Etienne Cugnet 1742 (MMRP)
60 doz. Minus one Tobacco pipes of black stone, for the trade

Etienne Gibeau
June 27, 1741 24 “calumais” made by Gibeau
June 6, 1743 1 dz. Ditto made by Gibeau (mentioned after, 3 dz. Pipes, incised or engraved) Gibeau’s pipes were 3x the cost of the others.
July 11, 1747 7 dozens Pipes made by Gibeau

Occasionally seen in post-mortem inventories as well

Finally, the archaeological record hints toward the creation and usage of stone pipes by canadiens. Judith Hauser analyzed stone pipes and fragments at Michilimackinac in 1983 and concluded that they were focused around the areas of canadien occupation. (Craft Industries at Michilimackinac,1715-1781. by Lynn L. Morand p. 50).

Additionally, when work was done on the Grand Portage (Minnesota) to find the posés or resting spots of the voyageurs, it was expected that many fragments of clay pipes would be found. Since smoking was a common break activity of the voyageurs and knowing the fragile nature of clay pipes and how common pieces are found in other areas of archaeology, this was thought to be a great indicator of these poses. Archaeologists, led by Douglas Birk, found many of these posés but not the large quantities of broken pipes expected. It is presumed by Birk and others that this is because the voyageurs were using less fragile stone pipes. This corresponds with the 1797 Grand Portage inventory that lists 14 ¼ doz. Stone “Callumets”. Interestingly, the Peter Kalm quote given above states they were used, “especially when they are on a journey.” This is undoubtedly because of their durability compared to their clay counterparts and would certainly apply to canadiens involved in the fur trade.

Here are a few images.  Only one is of a “true” canadien.  The rest are Mètis or Indians.

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