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Pit Pony author Joyce Barkhouse dies
by The Canadian Press, published on February 3, 2012 - 5:26pm
TORONTO Canadian children's author Joyce Barkhouse, whose novel "Pit Pony" was adapted for the small screen as a Gemini Award-winning film and a series, has died.
Nate Crawford, executive director of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia, said Barkhouse died on Thursday in Bridgewater, following a heart attack. She was 98.
CanLit legend Margaret Atwood, Barkhouse's niece, posted the news on her Twitter account Friday.
"My beloved aunt, writer Joyce Barkhouse ('Pit Pony'), died 2nd in NS at the age of 98," wrote Atwood, before supplying an email address for anyone with "memories/photos to share."
Barkhouse grew up in Woodville, N.S., the daughter of a doctor.
She started her career as a teacher in Nova Scotia and published her first children's book, "George Dawson: The Little Giant," in 1974.
"I'd have to do the math but I think she was 60 before she published that first book," Janet Lunn, a children's author and Barkhouse's longtime friend, said Friday in a phone interview from Ottawa.
"She had written for Sunday school papers and little columns but she didn't really become a book-published writer until her more advanced years."
"Pit Pony," published in '89, features a boy named Willie who forms a bond with a horse while working in the coal mines in Cape Breton.
The story won the Ann Connor Brimer Award for children's literature and became a CBC-TV film that co-starred Ellen Page and aired in 1997. The film won three Geminis, including best writing in a dramatic program or mini-series.
"Pit Pony," the TV series, also co-starred Page and debuted in '99. It was nominated for two Geminis, including one for Page's performance.
"Joyce was Nova Scotia through and through. She really was," said Lunn, who edited Barkhouse's first book.
"She loved Nova Scotia like no other place all her life."
Barkhouse's other books include "Anna's Pet," which she co-wrote with Atwood, as well as "Yesterday's Children," "The Witch of Port LaJoye" and "Smallest Rabbit." She also wrote several biographies of famous Nova Scotians and had short children's stories published in anthologies and magazines.
"I remember her books as a child and as an adult, I used to be an actor and I auditioned for 'Pit Pony,' the movie," said Crawford.
"Her imagination is kind of spread throughout the province and the nation, I think."
Lunn said Barkhouse no doubt drew upon her experiences as a teacher and a mother for her stories, noting she wasn't a didactic writer.
"She enjoyed stories and she wanted to bring stories to children," said Lunn. "She wasn't trying to teach them lessons, except for a little bit of Nova Scotia history, which she wanted everybody to understand."
In 2007, Barkhouse received the Order of Nova Scotia and in 2009 she became a member of the Order of Canada.
She was also an honorary life member of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and of the Writers' Union of Canada.
Barkhouse is survived by her two children, Janet and Murray, and several grand-children and great-grandchildren.
"We all loved Joyce," said Lunn. "She was a quiet, warm and loving person."