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Joyce Carman Barkhouse (nee Killam) was born in Woodville, Nova Scotia, on 3 May 1913. She was the middle of five children born to Harold Edwin and Ora Louise Killam. Barkhouse attended the small rural school in Woodville until grade eleven, when she transferred to the King’s County Academy in Kentville to complete grade twelve. In 1932 she earned her Teacher’s License from the Provincial Normal College in Truro, and began teaching in Sand Hill, Nova Scotia. In 1939 she taught in Liverpool, where she met Milton Joseph Barkhouse, a teller with the Royal Bank of Canada. They married in 1942 and had two children, Murray Roy and Janet Louise. Milton’s position with the Royal Bank took them from Liverpool to Halifax, Charlottetown and Montreal. In 1968, following the death of her husband, Joyce Barkhouse returned to Nova Scotia.
Barkhouse’s writing career began in 1932 with the publication of a short story in the Baptist church paper, The Northern Messenger. Her subsequent articles and short stories, primarily written for a younger audience, have appeared in church papers, anthologies, textbooks and periodicals; her column, For Mothers and Others, appeared in newspapers throughout Nova Scotia from 1973–1976. In 1974, at the age of sixty-one, Barkhouse published her first book, a biography of the geologist, George Dawson. She went on to published eight children's books, including Pit Pony, which was adapted for television by CBC, and Anna’s Pet, co-authored with her niece Margaret Atwood, and adapted for stage by Mermaid Puppet Theatre.
In 1993 the Joyce Barkhouse Writing for Children Award was established by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS). Barkhouse herself received the Ann Connor Brimer Award from the Nova Scotia Library Association in 1991; the Valuable Contribution to Children's Literature Award from the Nova Scotia Children's Literature Roundtable in 1990; the Marianna Dempster Memorial Award from the Canadian Authors Association in 1989; the Cultural Life Award for outstanding service to the cultural life of Nova Scotia in 1982; and First Prize, Children's Fiction, from WFNS in 1979. Barkhouse was named to the Order of Nova Scotia in 2007 and to the Order of Canada in 2009.
Barkhouse died in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, on 2 February 2012.