We think of Ernie Poignant as one of ours, because of the years he spent drawing weekly cartoons for the Maple Ridge Gazette. He was actually born in Matsqui (now Abbotsford) in 1919, in a farming settlement of Swedes and Norwegians then called Ridgedale.
When Ernie was four years old, his Swedish grandmother taught him how to draw a stick man, much to his delight. He has been drawing entertaining pictures ever since. He continues to present his famous chalk talks for children in hospital and seniors groups in Abbotsford, where he still lives at the age of 94 with his wife Rose.
Because he went to school speaking only Swedish, Ernie was made to spend two years in Grade 1. In Matsqui High School, he put his budding talent to work illustrating the advertisements in the high school annual in 1937. He was working on his cartooning skills, having his first published cartoon appear in 1940 in the Canada Poultryman.
Ernie’s language skills were an asset when he decided that life on a chicken farm wasn’t for him. He found work in the Swedish Press in Vancouver in 1947, the start of his working career in newspapers.
In 1954, Ernie moved to Quesnel to work as a compositor and linotype operator for the Cariboo Observer, with a sideline in editorial cartooning. It was here he met his wife Rose, and their two children Valerie and Gary were born. The family moved to Maple Ridge in 1958, where he worked at the Maple Ridge Gazette as compositor and editorial cartoonist. This continued until his retirement in 1983, when he received the Bronze Quill award from the Community Newspaper Association.
Ernie’s son Gary, now city editor for the Edmonton Sun, remembers his father’s constant drawing. On Saturday mornings in the 1960s, the two of them would walk to the Haney Café for coffee and ice cream. Ernie would take the ever- present pencil out of his pocket, and draw a duck, then “add a few lines and turn it into a duck hunter. This was the magic of Ernie’s first chalk talk.
During his years working at the Maple Ridge Gazette, Ernie Poignant volunteered with his entertaining chalk talks at BC Children’s Hospital, schools, hospitals and even jails. His outgoing personality and his boyish enthusiasm made him a favourite performer. In 1994, many of his cartoons were printed in a booklet called People, Pencil and Paper.
After his retirement in 1983, Ernie continued his cartooning performances at places like the PNE, Expo ‘86 and the Vancouver Children’s Festival. He and his wife Rose moved to Abbotsford in 2003, where he produced dozens of editorial cartoons for the Abbotsford Times and the Abbotsford Post. He worked closely with the Matsqui Sumas Abbotsford Museum, turning stories from pioneer recollections into cartoons.
One of these cartoons printed in his MSA Museum booklet Poignant Moments recalls the infamous 1948 flood that hit Abbotsford hard. Two people in a rowboat are rescuing a stranded cat from the top of a fence post. On its back is a live mouse, also saved from drowning. Another poignant moment recorded.
Sheila Nickols is past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.