Smoking the Calumet of Peace

Pipe ceremony used to begin every inaugural meeting of Maple Ridge council

Reeve Mussallem smoked the pipe to begin a new term of council.

Reeve Mussallem smoked the pipe to begin a new term of council.

In historic Maple Ridge, January was the month of the annual council elections, and for at least the first half of the 20th century, each inaugural council meeting began with a pipe-smoking ceremony.

Maple Ridge council’s Pipe of Peace is of the long-stemmed calumet variety. Its origins are found in the Eastern Woodlands of Canada and the United States.

The origin of this particular pipe is best described in the wondrous style of early Gazette editor, J. Juniur Dougan in February 1929:

“Twill bear announcing again that the present Minister of Public Works [Nelson S. Lougheed of Abernethy & Lougheed fame] about 1915 happened to be in Victoria, and, passing by a curiosity shop on Government Street owned by a Mr. Green saw a calumet as beautiful as old and bargained for its purchase.”

“Reeve Nels S. Lougheed, as he then was, had it filled, lit up, and passed to his five confreres, and, then, not to lose the effect of a regular annual “Pipe of Peace” smoke, and, not to let this novel fuming ceremonial be lost, presented the Council with the trophy, which has been used ever since, and, doubtless, will be perpetual.”

The actual date of the purchase in Victoria was 1911 and was first brought to council in 1912, when Nelson Lougheed was a councillor, not reeve, but who are we to quibble with such prose.

The pipe itself is quite striking. The long stem is decorated with blue, white, green and yellow beads on a background of rose coloured silk. The story that came with the pipe is that it was decorated by “an Indian Princess for her lover who went to war and never returned, with the result that the princess’s hatred for strife of any kind is supposed to haunt the pipe.”

That quote is from the Maple Ridge Leader of Feb. 4, 1937 on the occasion of the 26th smoking of the pipe.

One of the smokers that day in 1937 was William Ansell of Ward 3 [Webster’s Corners], who had been on every council since the pipe was introduced.

The custom was that after the pipe had been smoked by all members of the incoming or newly returned council, it was passed on to members of the press, then to other assembled guests.

It was thought to be very bad luck to refuse to smoke the pipe.  Prior to this 1937 report, anyone who had refused had failed to be re-elected in the following year.

In the case of Reeve William Hope in 1935, who banished the pipe altogether, illness stuck him soon after the ill-considered move and he was unable to even compete in the next year’s contest.

It was also considered very bad luck for the pipe to go out during the ceremony and it usually fell to the municipal clerk to ensure that it was properly prepared.

The Pipe of Peace continued to be smoked at inaugural council meetings until at least 1952.

The pipe is still housed on display at municipal hall.

• If anyone knows when and why the pipe ceremony was abandoned, please contact the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives with the information.

Val Patenaude is a director of the Maple Ridge Museum.