A long-time local cartoonist and chalk talk entertainer passed away recently, at the age of 102.
Ernie Donald Poignant thrilled bringing smiles to the faces of young and old alike through his art, a skill he jokingly blamed on his grandmother.
When he was four years old, Hulda Poignant would draw stickmen, and the young boy would finish them.
“He was soon doodling every chance he got,” and he never stopped, recounted his son Gary.
“…COVID-19 hit, but [Dad] was not deterred. He continued to sketch and draw for staff and residents at Menno House up until shortly before his passing.”
Poignant was born on the Matsqui Prairie area of Abbotsford on Feb. 4, 1919 (less than three months after the end of the First World War), and moved back to Abbotsford again in 2003, living out the last days of his life at Menno House seniors care home.
But for close to 50 years in between, he and his wife of 67 years, Rose, called Maple Ridge home.
After a stint working as a civilian mechanic at the Canadian air training base at the Abbotsford airport, Poignant enlisted with the Canadian army.
While stationed at Ontario’s Camp Borden, a live mortar detonated close by, permanently damaging his hearing. Despite the injury, he remained on active duty at several military bases in Canada throughout the Second World War.
On the side, Poignant continued to draw and – having had his first cartoon appear in Canadian Poultry magazine in 1940 – he had several of his cartoons appeared in military publications during his years of service.
After the war, he used his family connections and was hired at a Swedish press in Vancouver as a linotype operator and page layout compositor. He also became a regular editorial cartoonist.
In 1949 he moved to a similar job in Quesnel, where he was hired as a newspaper compositor. He continued producing a weekly editorial cartoon for the Cariboo Observer.
“While sketching a cartoon on a napkin in a cafe he caught the eye of a young waitress named Rose Zack. Romance soon blossomed and the couple married in 1954,” Gary shared.
They had two children before moving to Maple Ridge in 1958, where Poignant took a compositor’s job at the weekly Haney Gazette. And, yes, he continued his weekly gig as a cartoonist.
Describing his father as an outgoing man, Gary recounted how his dad wanted to experience a personal reaction to his drawings. So, prompted by a story in a U.S. magazine, Poignant trained himself and started performing chalk talks.
“He created a variety of illustrated stories he would use during his performances, including his personal testimony as a new Christian called ‘From the bottle to the bible.’ He also delivered secular presentations, including one where he would sketch a duck, add a few lines and turn the duck into a duck hunter,” Gary said.
In 1977, Poignant introduced initial drawing – a unique creation where participants print their initials on a blank sheet of paper and pick a favourite animal. He would then drew a personal storyboard using the two letters to recreate a cartoon of the subject along with their animal.
In 1984, the lifelong cartoonist retired from the Gazette, but said he then “became busier than ever.”
For some 30 years he entertained children at the BC Children’s Hospital, Canuck Place, Ronald McDonald House, and other facilities.
His so-called retirement also gave him time to publish his first book of cartoons, ‘People, Pencil and Paper,’ in 1994.
In 2003, the Poignants moved back to Abbotsford and the artist was soon using his skills to entertain people of all ages – from Canuck Place Abbotsford to seniors’ centres.
In 2011, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Abbotsford Arts Council for his tireless efforts through those performances.
In 2013 he raised more than $8,300 for Abbotsford’s Canuck Place children’s hospice through the sale of his second cartoon book, ‘Poignant Moments.’
“I may be slowing down, but I’ve still got my marbles,” Poignant said at the time, giving most of the praise to Rose.
“My success would not have been possible without her,” he said, adding that his wife was his driver, inspiration, and sounding board for many of his creations.
Poignant, who rarely took payments for his performances, said the reaction he received from people through his chalk talks and initial cartoons is what he always found so satisfying.
He performed his initial cartoon well past his 100th birthday, entertaining at the local hospices, churches, schools, and hospitals.
On his 101st birthday, in 2020, he signed copies of his third cartoon book, ‘Welcome to the Past,’ with all proceeds from the book going to Heritage Abbotsford.
Then, a week later, he drew for children at Canuck Place. Ernie, sporting a 101-years-young hat, he said, “I like to keep busy. It keeps me young.”
He was survived by his wife, their children, Valerie (Phil) of Ladysmith, and Gary (Linda) of Sherwood Park, Alta., as well as three grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his parents, Albin and Hedvig, along with his brother, David, and sister, Thelma.
Poignant passed away on July 15. A celebration of his life will be announced at a later date.
In the meantime, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Mennonite Benevolent Society.
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