Joyce Barkhouse, the Nova Scotia-based children's author who wrote Pit Pony, has died. She was 98.

Nate Crawford, executive director of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia, said Barkhouse died on Thursday in Bridgewater, N.S., following a heart attack.

Pit Pony, the story of a boy and his horse working in the coal mines of Cape Breton, was her most popular book, drawing letters from people living in mining communities and from horse lovers across Canada. It was published in 1990.


Joyce Barkhouse, who was inducted into the Order of Nova Scotia in 2009, wrote eight books and many children's stories. (Order of Nova Scotia)

The book was a notable one named by the Canadian Library Association, received the first Ann Connor Brimer Award in 1991 for "outstanding contribution to children's literature in Atlantic Canada" and had international distribution.

Barkhouse had been interested in the wild horses of Sable Island and conceived the story after learning that they were used in coal mines in Cape Breton because of their small stature.

In 1997, it was made into a CBC-TV film that co-starred Ellen Page and garnered three Gemini Awards, including best writing in a dramatic program or mini-series.

In 1999, the movie was spun off into a 44-episode mini-series, also for children.

Barkhouse was born Joyce Killam on May 3, 1913, in Nova Scotia. She attended a two-room village school in Woodville, Annapolis Valley, and grew up surrounded by horses.

She studied at teachers college and taught all subjects in a one-room school with students in grades 1 to 11 in her early years.

She gave up teaching when she married and later lived in Halifax, Charlottetown and Montreal, before returning to live in Bridgewater.


Boys worked alongside the horses in Cape Breton mines in Pit Pony. (CBC)

In her youth, Barkhouse wrote for a Sunday school newspaper and later published in teachers' publications and the Family Herald and Weekly Star, a national newspaper.

She published her first book George Dawson: The Little Giant in 1974, at age 61, when she was already a grandmother. The non-fiction children’s book told the story of Dawson, a tiny hunchback who contributed to early knowledge of the geology, biology and ethnology of Canada's Northwest.

She also wrote books about two other Nova Scotians, Abraham Gesner (a geologist who developed a process for manufacturing kerosene) and Thomas Raddall (an author of historical fiction about Nova Scotia). 

She wrote many short stories for young readers in The Northern Messenger and other publications and frequently spoke to young people.

Barkhouse believed in engaging young readers by telling them true stories about their own communities. Many of her works reflected Nova Scotia life.


Joyce Barkhouse was an honorary life member of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and of the Writers' Union of Canada. (Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia)

"Joyce was Nova Scotia through and through. She really was," said Janet Lunn, a children's author and Barkhouse's longtime friend. "She loved Nova Scotia like no other place all her life."

Barkhouse's other books include Anna's Pet, which she co-wrote with Margaret Atwood, as well as Yesterday's Children, The Witch of Port LaJoye and Smallest Rabbit.

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.

With files from The Canadian Press