Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
When antique collectors in Quebec City acquire vintage smoking accessories — a brass ashtray that resembles a fallen leaf, a silver table lighter that might have adorned a dining room in the early 20th century or a porcelain cigarette box lovingly hand-painted with a story and history of its own — the first person they call is 90-year-old Gemma Dubreuil.
Dubreuil sources and curates repurposed smoking accessories for Fumée Galante’s vintage line GEMMA, available exclusively through Mihi Cannabis.
“She’s such a rarity, nobody else collects antique smoking accessories, so they hold pieces for her and they call her to tell her to come and see them,” says Sonya Gauthier, founder of Fumée Galante and Dubreuil’s daughter-in-law.
Once Dubreuil arrives to inspect the pieces, a new conversation begins. “She’s a fierce, fierce negotiator,” says Gauthier. “It’s a really beautiful thing to watch.”
Dubreuil’s finds, unearthed at antique shops and flea markets around Quebec, are not always easily discernible, their purpose not always clear.To the uninitiated, a porcelain figurine of someone sitting down at a piano, for example, may just look like a sculpture. But Dubreuil’s trained eye will immediately recognize its original intention as a decorative ashtray.
“We have pieces from everywhere in the world and she’s so knowledgeable and so absolutely certain in everything that she puts forward,” Gauthier says. “Even if I look at it and say, ‘Well, are you sure it’s an ashtray?’ She is absolutely, positively sure. And it turns out it always is.”
For Dubreuil, the explanation is simple.
“It’s easy for me, because I’ve done it all my life,” she says. “I’m old. I’m 90. I’ve seen these things so many times and I know what to buy.”
Dubreuil’s home is a shrine to her antique finds, with most of the pieces dating back to the early 1900s up to the 1960s.
“I have so much here at home, it’s a little crazy, I think, but I love it so much,” she says. “I admire the pieces and their beauty.”
Years ago, while attending a Titanic exhibit with her daughter, Dubreuil noticed that she had one of the pieces on display, a breakfast plate, at home.
“I was so happy. I said ‘I know I have that piece at home,’” she says, “So it’s a very good way to learn. I’ve learned all my life and I want to learn more.”Even at 90, Dubreuil continues her professional career as a real estate developer in Quebec City. Over the course of her life, she has acquired more than 80 properties. Antiquing is her passion, however, and she speaks proudly about having her pieces available at Mihi Cannabis in Burlington.
Mihi carried one of Gauthier’s favourite finds: a set of porcelain hands adorned with rings and painted nails and just enough space between the fingers to hold a joint or two.
“They were so beautiful and so conducive to destigmatizing smoking for women,” Gauthier explains.
And though Dubreuil does not smoke, she has enjoyed cannabis by other means.
“We have girl’s parties, quite often, and what we do is we taste wine and beverages and chocolates and maybe later something more, you never know,” she says.
“We do have women’s weekends and I always bring a little bit of edibles because most women I know don’t smoke,” Gauthier says. “Gemma has been very open and has slept well every single weekend that we’ve had together.”
Dubreuil draws a parallel between the lifting of alcohol prohibition and the legalization of cannabis.