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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

The Art of the Deal…

March 15, 2005

Weldon Pinchin and I have been friends for a long time, a little more than 60 years.

Living in Vancouver and looking for a new locale, his parents, Ted and Rosina (Dode) Pinchin had answered an ad placed by T.C.Richards for a baker to supply his Whitehorse Inn with bread and pastries. They arrived in Whitehorse to establish their bakery, The Cakebox, in the spring of l943, just shortly before our family made the move from Dawson to Whitehorse with the Aksala, the first boat of the season. Both my brother, Aksel, and Weldon had just turned eight that spring and Dennis, the younger Pinchin boy, and I would begin grade one in the fall. As new kids on the block and big city kids, to boot, Weldon and Dennis found Whitehorse a bit strange and a little less-than friendly. Ax and I, with our Danish-accented English and slightly European manners, were similarly uneasy in our new location With the instincts common to young children and small animals, we formed an alliance that served us well in those early days and kept us intangibly but definitely connected as we separated to go our own ways. Today, though Dennis has passed on to his undoubted reward, Weldon and Aksel live on the west coast and get together pretty often. I keep in touch with both of them through e-mails and telephone calls and infrequent visits.

Weldon, a big boy for his age and with a sharp intelligence that informed all of our games and pass-times, was the undisputed leader of our little pack rat. Fueled by Hollywood westerns and war movies shown on Saturday afternoons at the old Whitehorse Theatre, our battles were orchestrated by Weldon, who, like any good commander, interspersed his orders with plenty of praise and an occasional doughnut.

When we got tired of chasing rustlers and driving our huge herds of Texas long-horns from one end of town to the other, we’d seek our fortune in galena, spilled from broken ore bags and salted along the railroad tracks that paralleled the river. As that palled and/or our pockets were full, we’d move on to the area behind The Cakebox, there to defend Yukon’s skies from the might of the German Luftwaffe with the aid of a brace of anti-aircraft that flanked the cenotaph in the middle of the lot. We were a doughty and intrepid crew and wave after wave of bombers bit the dust, thanks to Weldon’s precision firing, while the swarms of Messerschmitts that accompanied them fell victim to small arms fire, picked off with deadly skill by Dennis and Aksel. Being a girl, I was allowed, no matter what the scenario, to be the nurse. In our line of work, I was necessary.

The three of us were Weldon’s to command, eager and willing to do his bidding and rarely questioning his authority. And he was not above taking advantage of our compliance. The boys both had chores to do when they got home to the bakery and it was one of Weldon’s jobs to bring in the stacks of wood required for the big fire-fueled ovens. On the premise that the sooner the wood was hauled, the sooner we’d be off, adventure-bound, and on the promise of a doughnut once the wood box was filled, Ax and I would carry in log after log after log while Weldon tended to his other duties. Dennis had long-since learned to make himself scarce until after the wood detail had been accomplished but somehow, Ax and I never twigged to our exploitation, indeed, we were delighted to be of such assistance to our chief and cherished his "Good work, men!" almost as much as the more tangible reward of the freshly-glazed pastry.

We moved to Johnson’s Crossing in 1947 and our little rat pack became little more than a memory, albeit a cherished one. In the early 50s, Ax and I returned to Whitehorse for high school and while Dennis and I still enjoyed a good rapport, Weldon had put childish things, like a formal education, behind him and was out and about, doing a man’s work for a man’s wages. Soon we heard he had left the Yukon and for a time, he passed from our lives, surfacing once in a while for a visit or a phone call, keeping in touch even as he pursued a variety of interests.

He owned and operated a couple of very successful service stations in Vancouver and named BC’s Service magazine’s Man of the Year. He and his wife built a hotel on Mayne Island and when that venture, and his marriage, ended, he took a year off and sailed around the world. In later years, he ran an investment business out of home on Mayne, and in his spare time, traveled around the country, lecturing on a variety of subjects, possibly even on the fine art of the con.

Recently, he’s had a few articles published on the Moccasin Telegraph, a website devoted to things to the good old days in north and western Canada. When I admitted to him that I’d had trouble bringing the website up on my computer, he e-mailed copies of his original stories to me for input. I was delighted and charmed with his pieces and asked if I could share one with my readers.

* * *

This is the strange tale about Emile Forest, the M.V. Loon, the S.S. Klondike, Sam McGee’s Crematorium, and me.

By Weldon Pinchin

(Reprinted with kind permission of Sherron Jones, Editor of Moccasin Telegraph)

It was spring, summer of 1949, I got a job with Emile Forest on the M.V. Loon. The Loon was gas powered and shallow drafted, propeller driven. Her first job each year was to go down to the head of Lake Lebarge and sound the bar of sand that had built up since last fall and mark the bar with red-flanged rods. This was done so the first river boat (of the season) could see the deepest channel over the bar. Later we proceeded to explore the shore line on C.O. orders, looking for an old boiler we had seen on the right hand side of the shore going down river.

We checked on this again, Emile was satisfied, so over to this island the C.O. had picked out – in checking the name, I think it was Richtofen Island but I could be wrong. We had to pick up the boiler and put it on the island on the south side. It was important to be in the right place as the Klondike was to come up from the north and drop anchor where the water was deep right up to the island; no docks or floats here.

Emile had a picture and plan in mind so we began making a bed for the boiler to rest on by the water’s edge. He also sized up the trees around the side and saw where the path was to go. With that, we went back to the boiler and, as it was getting late, nosed the barge into the beach, off-loaded the hand winch and cables, ready for the morning. As there is no night this time of year, we had a good supper and s few hours of sleep: the next day was going to be long and hard.

The wind was light, good for us. I went ashore, hooked the winch to the trees, hocked the boiler to the barge and then hand-winched it on. This was a lot easier said than done, believe me, I did all the winching, cable and pulley adjustment etc. on the barge and on the shore. Emile’s job was no cake walk: he had to keep the Loon and the barge lined up with the beach and the boiler. This took us most of the day. Then Emile decided to take our boiler over to the island, the wind was light, we had day light, so off we went.

Now, you must realize, the same job had to be done all over again. In reverse. This day was a long, long laugh. I washed the stones in and around the boiler to make it look as if it had been there for years. Then I set about making a path up the hill and over to the Klondike docking area. Emile was busy putting gear, cable etc. away, in the boat and on the barge.

I was building a good path for the tourists, nice sunny morning, not too many flies, and had just reached the top of the hill, looked over and saw the S.S. Klondike coming around the tip of the island one day earlier than we had expected. What to do?? We picked up our gear and made a fast getaway.

We went around the island the same way the Klondike had come; this way the people on the boat didn’t see us come up on her starboard side and tie up. Emile went on board and told the Captain the state of things. The anchored by now but had not dropped the gang plank The timing was great.

Sooo, what is this true story all about?

The Klondike was on her maiden trip to show the tourists the boiler that Sam McGee was cremated in.Emile and I were having lunch when the first people came back. I can still hear them, you’d have thought they’d won the Lottery!

* * *

I told you that Weldon had not put great store in the benefits of book learnin’ and I have taken great liberty in tidying up his rendition of this harmless little hoax perpetrated on the unsuspecting tourists who had paid to be entertained on a day-trip to Lake Lebarge. I hope there was, at least, a doughnut waiting for them on their return. For me, it’s been 60 years and I can still taste the syrupy glaze on my tongue; it is almost as sweet as the memory of being included in Weldon’s words of approbation: "Good work, men!"

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