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This is not a pipe

I suppose it could be considered strange to have a vintage tobacco pipe resting on my shelf. It’s a relic, an heirloom that I got from my dad’s cousin, Jackie. She and her husband were organizing a garage sale and were selling all sorts of intriguing treasures. 

“Who did this pipe belong to?” I asked as they were setting up outside their Victoria home. Jackie thought it had belonged to either ‘Gubby’ or her father, Walter. As a toddler in the 1930s, Jackie had nicknamed her grandfather (my great-grandfather) ‘Gubby’ when she couldn’t pronounce the word ‘grandpa.’ Generations later, the appellation has stuck.

Gubby, otherwise known as Daniel Hattie, was born at Guysborough County, Nova Scotia in 1869, the son of a farmer. He was the second of ten children. The large family lived in a cramped two-story farmhouse at Eight-Mile Lake and struggled to make ends meet. 

For decades, forestry and shipbuilding had been the main local employer, so young Dan set his sights on apprenticing as a shipwright to make the wooden sailing ships that the Maritimes was known for. He was clever with his hands and skilled with tools, so the trade was a good fit. Unfortunately, his birth in the late nineteenth century coincided with industrialization. A new demand for steel-hulled ships meant that the previously bustling shipyards went out of business and jobs were scarce. 

After completing his apprenticeship, Dan made his way down the east coast to the shipyards of New York where he briefly worked. The west coast called, however, and by 1891 he had sailed around the Horn and landed at Vancouver Island. Perhaps his parents felt this was only a temporary separation, as in the 1891 census he was listed both as a carpenter living back in Nova Scotia and as a ship’s carpenter working at the dockyards in Victoria. It’s doubtful he ever saw them again as British Columbia became his permanent home. In 1893 he moved up-island to the small community of Duncan where he plied the carpenter trade, building residential houses and working on several local bridges.

Gubby had been frugal with his money, and after a brief stint as a miner at the Mt Sicker copper mines, was ready to settle down. He married in 1903, aged 33, and purchased an established wheelwright and carriage shop. Daniel was an astute businessman and saw that the future required branching out into mechanization. In a 1905 newspaper ad, he touted himself as a “dealer in agricultural implements, wagons, carriages, harness, cream separators, bicycles, and accessories.”[1] Over the next few years he bought up some of the competition: a  farm machinery business and a saddlery business.[2] He embraced technology and had one of the first motor cars in the town, although, according to Cousin Karolyn, his gear shifting always remained a bit jerky. He began to sell cars, becoming a distributer for the Studebaker Light-Six, which in 1924 cost a whopping $1775.[3]

Gubby was a lifelong pipe smoker. A photo where he proudly holds his firstborn in 1904, shows him with a pipe firmly clenched between his teeth. And a 1940s photo of him at his summer home in Maple Bay features another pipe. Cousin Jackie said that he had many to choose from over the years.

My pipe is made of a briar wood burl, stamped with the maker “Len Payne.” The stem has teeth marks, and if I put my nose to the bowl, I can still smell the faint whiff of tobacco. As the pipe maker emigrated to BC in 1956 and Gubby died in 1958, it’s possible that the pipe belonged to Walter after all. Regardless, the unusual heirloom sits on a shelf next to my television—not simply a pipe, but an enduring representation and reminder of my great-grandfather. Gubby.


[1] The Cowichan Leader, Saturday, July 29, 1905

[2] The Cowichan Leader, November 11, 1905; The Cowichan Leader, February 22, 1908

[3] The Daily Colonist, May 11, 1924

Further reading:

Kenneth Lieblich, The Frog Prince

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images


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