More than six decades later, Ellen Davignon vividly recalls her first trip to Whitehorse.
In was 1943 when six-year-old Ellen and her three siblings embarked on a steamboat in Dawson for the long up-river trek to the family’s new home.
“It took us a whole week to make it from Dawson to Whitehorse, but it was amazing. We were like kids going to Disneyland.”
Davignon was born in Dawson to Danish immigrant parents, Bob and Elly Porsild, who had come to the Yukon to do some mining and trapping.
The family was in Whitehorse for only four years before her father made a decision that would have a defining effect on Davignon’s life.
“Dad bought the old mining camp at Johnson’s Crossing.”
For young Ellen, it was a dream come true. She attended a one-room school in the nearby town of Brooks Brook. In her spare time she unleashed her energy and imagination on her parents’ new plot of land.
“It was a big empty camp, but to us it was a playground. There was a big barge down by the river that was our favourite place to play.”
The camp was converted into a highway roadhouse and Davignon took a keen interest in the enterprise. As she grew older, she moved to Whitehorse to attend high school, graduated, and married Phil Davignon, a farmer from Alberta who was operating a tire shop on the Alaska Highway.
Her parents were also getting older and the strain of running their business was beginning to takes its toll. So in 1965 Phil and Ellen bought the lodge at Johnson’s Crossing.
And though she was kept busy, she wasn’t completely fulfilled. Growing up, Davignon had shown a talent for writing, but was never able to fully develop this skill.
One day, while attending a women’s social club meeting, she was informed that the Whitehorse Star was looking for someone to write the news about Teslin. Davignon leapt at the opportunity.
She spent about five years writing dispatches from Teslin before taking time off to raise a family. But in 1974 she picked up her pen again, this time to write a column about life on the highway for the Yukon News.
Borrowing from a Thoreau quote, she titled her column “Lives of Quiet Desperation.” She was off to the races.
For 30 years Davignon chronicled her experiences with good humour and, on occasion, mischief.
“People really liked my column because they could relate,” she says.
Her family members were not always so amused. “They were just grist for my mill,” she recalls with a boisterous laugh.
“Every time my husband made me mad, he ended up in my column.”
Davignon recalls one such column with admirable enthusiasm.
“Phil was mad because I had let the fire go out. I was trying to jolly him up without much success. He came back in and I was in a swivel chair but I didn’t swivel out of his way fast enough, so he tripped over my feet.”
What made this particular column unique was that she wrote about the incident using the writing styles of eight different authors, including Stephen King, Louis L’Amour and Mother Goose.
It is a testament to Davignon’s skill as a humourist that she was able to turn such a seemingly innocuous event into grand comedic fodder.
The year 1988 saw the publication of Davignon’s first book, The Cinnamon Mine: Memories of an Alaska Highway Childhood. She is currently working on a history of the Porsild family.
When she and Phil moved back to Whitehorse in 1992, one might have expected her column to come to an end.
But Davignon found a job at Mac’s Fireweed Books, where they were only too happy to continue publishing her thoughts, which patrons could find under a sign helpfully titled “Ellen’s Rants.”
This draws another unrestrained laugh. In fact, Davignon doesn’t go very long without a good chuckle.
Retired from the bookshop for three years now, she seems to approach life in much the same way that she approaches writing.
“I’ve always felt it was easier to make fun of something than to take it too seriously,” she says.