Monday, July 26, 2010

TABAC À FUMER ...why Paul Emile Rivet was never without his Pipe

Paul Emile Rivet was the father of my godfather and I called him "pépère".  When I was little I thought it was his name. When I heard another young person call another older man "pépère", I still didn't get it! But eventually I figured out "pépère" meant grandfather.
Pépère was a barber by trade and he was born in St Jacques de L'Achigan, Quebec. When he came to Cohoes he was a young man and most likely already addicted to tabac.

A few things I can remember about pépère....
  • He spoke English with a heavy accent.
  • He had to have a glass of milk every night- with a shot of brandy in it!  
  • He never, absolutely never was without his pipe- his tabac
  • After he broke his hip falling on ice in the parking lot at St Marie's Church,  he always walked with crutches or a cane.
That was not an easy feat - it isn't easy to walk with crutches and still hold onto your pipe.  I do not have many pictures of pépère but in every photo that I do have there is a pipe in the picture or an ash tray stand close by.   Look at this picture below. You can see pépère has something in his hand and his crutches are in the background. This picture was taken at a picnic somewhere around Troy or Schenectady.  He is holding his pipe in the classic "this is how I hold my pipe" position.
Paul Emile Rivet with  pipe in left hand
When I started looking for pépère's origins in Quebec, it was almost fifty years after he died.  I never heard mention about where in Quebec he came from so it was quite interesting when once my godfather told me that pépère loved  "Parfum de Joliette".  That is not the name of a liquid scent one uses to dab behind your ears; it is tobacco!  "Parfum de Joliette" may have been a trade name or the name pépère called his favorite tabac from back home.

There's a pipe in my pipere's left hand

Here I am sitting in my dad's lap watching the 1950's television set with pépère on the other side. Pépère's ash tray stand is nearby and pépère has his pipe in his left hand.  Sometimes he would let me use the pipe cleaners and clean the old ashes out of his pipe.  That was a big deal!  His tobacco pouch was always in his pocket too.

Smoking a pipe was traditional for French Canadian men (and maybe some  women too).  The farmland around St Jacques de L'Achigan was prime tobacco fields and it was a big business because there was such a demand in Quebec.  Pépère was likely addicted to tabac from an early age.

that's tobacco and I can smell it!

On the web site Grand Quebec there is a brief description by an American visitor about the culture of pipe smoking in Quebec after the English took over....

«Le tabac semble être une des choses nécessaires à la vie des Canadiens, et la pipe une partie indispensable de la toilette. "The tobacco seems to be one of the necessaries of life for Canadians, and the pipe is an indispensable part of the toilet.
Les Canadiens sont d'éternels fumeurs. Canadians are eternal smokers.
On dirait que chaque homme, femme et enfant doit nécessairement avoir sa pipe et son sac à tabac et s'en servir constamment. It seems that every man, woman and child must necessarily have his pipe and tobacco pouch and use it constantly.
J'ai vu des marmots âgés au plus de quatre ans qui fumaient avec tout la gravité de leurs grands-pères…»
I saw brats aged up to four years of smoking with all the seriousness of their forefathers ... "

St Jacques Tobacco Packing Company Limited,
St Jacques, Quebec
St Jacques or Joliette, Quebec

Pipe smoking was a natural habit in Quebec and pépère just brought the habit along when he crossed the border...look at these images of everyday people in paintings and photographs.

From the McCord Museum, Montreal

Gatineau Madonna of André Biéler

Old trapper

Here is a poem that makes me think of Pépère because the dialect is so close to the way I remember his voice.......


by William Henry Drummond (1854-1907)
TWO honder year ago, de worl' is purty slow
   Even folk upon dis contree 's not so
Den who is travel roun' an' look out de
   pleasan' groun' 
 For geev' de Yankee peop' a leetle start?
I 'll tole you who dey were!  de beeg rough
W'it deir cousin w'at you call coureurs de bois,
Dat 's fightin' all de tam, an' never care a dam,
An' ev'ry wan dem feller he 's come from
He 's comin' all de way from Canadaw.

But He watch dem, le bon Dieu, for He's  got
   some work to do,
 An He won't trus' ev'ry body, no siree!
Only full blood Canadien, lak Marquette an' 
 An' w'at you t'ink of Louis Verandrye?

On church of Bonsecours!  makin' ready for 
   de tour,
See dem down upon de knee, all prayin' dere-
Wit' de paddle on de han' ev'ry  good Canad-
   ien man,
An' affer dey be finish, hooraw for anyw'ere
                       Yass, sir!
Dey 're ready now for goin' anyw'ere.

De nort' win' know dem well, an' de prairie
    grass can tell
 How offen it is trample by the ole tam botte
An'grey wolf on hees den kip very quiet, w'en
 He hear dem boy a' singin' upon de long
An' de night would fin' dem lie wit' deir faces
   on de sky,
An' de breeze would come  an' w' isper on deir
 'Bout de wife an' sweetheart dere on Sorel an' 
   Trois Rivieres
Dey may never leev' to see anoder year
                        Dat 's true,
Dey may never leev' to kiss anoder year.

An' you 'll know de place dey go, from de
   canyon down below,
 Or de mountain wit' hees nose aboeve de cloud,
De lake among de hill, w'ere de grizzly drink
   hees fill
 Or de rapid on de reever roarin' loud;
Ax de wil' deer if de flash of de ole Tree
   Reever sash
He don't  see it on de woods of Illinois
An' de musk ox as he go, w'ere de camp fire
   melt de snow,
De smell he still remember of tabac Canadien
                            Ha! Ha!
It 's hard forgettin' smell of tabac Canadien!

So, ma frien' , de Yankee man, he mus' try an' 
 W'en he holler for dat flag de Star an' 
If he 's leetle win' still lef', an' no danger hurt
 Den he better geev' anoder cheer, ba cripe!
For de flag of la belle France, dat show de way
From Louisbourg to Florida an' back;
So raise it ev'ryw'ere, lak' de ole tam voy-
W'en you hear of de la Salle an' Cadillac-
For de flag of de la Salle an' Cadillac.

This poem is in the public domain..

Here's the complete sequence of stories about illnesses and disease in our families...


  1. Love the history, the humor, and the personal connection to the man who I am named after. Thanks for the research and for crafting such a great piece.

    Paul Emile Rivet

  2. C'est un merveilleux blog de mon cousin! I, too, really enjoy the humor as well as the history and the French Canadian connection! I get to put my rusty French to the test here! I'm enjoying your blog very much! Tres bon! ~Dorothy