of Bernice Thurman Hunter
She was born in
Toronto, Ontario, on November 3, 1922 and died May 29, 2002. She
married her high school sweetheart, Lloyd Hunter, and had two
children, Anita and Heather, and four grandchildren, Meredith,
Lisa, Hunter and Franceline. No Greats.
Bernice was the middle child of 5 children (Wilma, Gordon,
Bernice, Jack and Robert). She struggled in school because they
moved so often.
The Booky Trilogy, set during the Great Depression,
depicts her family being forced to stay ahead of the bailiff,
who threw them out when her unemployed father couldn't afford
the rent. (Despite the hardships of poverty, it was her nature
to be happy, so the books are upbeat.) They lived in Birchcliff
and Swansea. The "new house" was on Cornell Avenue and she went
to Birchcliff Public School, but most of her childhood and teens
were spent on Lavinia, which is why Swansea claims her for their
own. She attended Runnymede Collegiate, but didn't graduate
because the war started and she went to work (depicted in The
Girls They Left Behind). As a new bride, she lived on
Gladstone Avenue in Toronto. Her husband was transferred to
Peterborough, so they moved to Millbrook when her children were
young. In 1956, she and her husband bought their own home on
Meldazy Drive in a beautiful new subdivision in Scarborough,
when McCowan was a gravel road and north of Ellesmere was
farmland. Her books accurately depict these locales in different
eras. Toronto is "a character" in her books.
She was interested in
writing since early childhood and would often have a captive
audience of school chums lined up along the curb to listen to
her stories. In her teens, she met and had the temerity to
present a story to her idol, L.M. Montgomery. The famous author
of Anne Of Green Gables complimented Bernice: "Your
characters ring true!...You have a good imagination" – blissful
words for the young author's ears, but the next bit of advice
was a crushing blow to the fourteen-year-old's already faltering
self-esteem. Montgomery said, "A writer must have higher
education -- it is imperative that you go to University." The
young hopeful went away dejected. What Ms. Montgomery could not
know was that Bernice came from a very poor background and had
no hope of a University Education. The fateful words stayed
buried in her heart for many years. An avid reader, she was
self-educated. She often read a book in one night.
She continued to write
because writing was as natural to her as breathing. When her own
children were small, Bernice wrote for them an ongoing story
about their lives in Millbrook, Ontario with themselves as
heroines. (Her first manuscript, Kimberley of Millpond,
has been published 55 years later in 2010 by her daughter.) Her
stories were written in longhand because Bernice didn't own a
typewriter. It was not until her children were grown that she
decided to try to publish. She obtained an old Underwood
typewriter and tapped out a story about her first grandchild,
aptly titled, "A Grandchild Can Make Life Beautiful Again". She
sent it to The Toronto Star and they published it
and sent her a cheque for fifty-dollars. After that she wrote
and published numerous stories for children in magazines and
anthologies and then went on to publish 17 novels.
especially the "Booky" trilogy, are autobiographical in nature.
Her strength as a writer lies in her ability to bring her
childhood memories vividly to life for her young readers.
Because the setting and tone of her novels accurately capture
the past, she was acknowledged by the Toronto Historical Society
and her books are used in history as well as language programs
in schools. She was in constant demand as a guest speaker in
schools and libraries across Canada and her daughter, Heather
Hunter, now goes in her stead. Heather gives a power point
presentation on Bernice's life and works.
Of her school visits,
Bernice once said: "My favourite part of a school visit is
'question period', but sometimes I get comments instead of
questions. This is my favourite: When a twelve-year old girl
realized that Booky and I are one and the same, she exclaimed,
'Oh, I wish I was a kid when you were a kid, so we could be best
friends!' I can't think of a nicer compliment."
Although Bernice had a
heart condition as a result of having had Rheumatic fever as a
child and she couldn't even walk fast, nothing slowed her down.
She was writing up until one month before her death when she
went into Sunnybrook Hospital and died at the age of 79. She
even said, "I don't want to live to be very old. If I die this
year, don't put 'in her 80th. year' in the death notice; I can't
relate to it!" She got her wish; she never got old.