Biography 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.

     Bernice's 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.