While Port Alberni author Gwynne Hunt was writing her autobiography Unlocking the Tin Box in 2019, she made a shocking discovery. The man that she thought was her father all her life was not biologically related to her.
From this discovery came a second book, Through My Lens, which explores the lives of her parents and their complicated pasts. Through My Lens was released by Silver Bow Publishing in July of this year.
“I was doing DNA research for the first book,” Hunt explained. “When I made the discovery, that changed the ending [of my autobiography] somewhat. I started doing research into my parents and found some incredibly interesting stories about the man I thought was my father.”
While Unlocking the Tin Box was a true story about growing up in Vancouver in the 1950s and 60s, Through My Lens is a mix of biography and fiction. Hunt did research mostly through old newspaper records.
“I found all the real facts, then wove a story between the clippings,” she explained. “I relied on what I knew from memories or family stories. It’s a really interesting portrait of the times before and after the Second World War.”
The story takes a look back through the Great Depression, the Second World War and into the 1980s. The man she thought was her father, Ronald Robinson, was a murder suspect, a vagrant, and a thief. His ex-wife was known as the Big Boss of Powell Street in Vancouver and her son was sent to prison for one of the biggest drug busts to hit the West Coast in the 1950s.
Hunt’s real father, Harold Larsen, was a man known to her as her dad’s best friend from Standard, Alberta. His family included a great uncle who was a well-known artist and another who was a world traveller and scientist whose work is studied today.
Hunt’s mother rebelled from a strict upbringing based on religion and suffered the loss of seven babies before she gave birth to three girls: all with different fathers. She became an alcoholic.
Somehow the three of them came together, and this book is their story.
“I wanted to honour them and talk about their lives because they were very interesting,” said Hunt. “I was trying to make sense of where they were at different times. It’s an engaging story about three people who were very troubled. Individually, they had different lives and somehow managed to come together and find each other.”
Hunt has been writing all her life. When she was a teenager, she faked illness to stay home from school and write her first novel. As a poet, a playwright and a novelist, she has written, directed and produced more than 30 of her own plays. For many years she directed and produced Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, raising thousands of dollars to help end violence against women and girls. A lot of Hunt’s work has been performance art she produced during 20 years of organizing and producing Fringe Festivals on the Mainland and later in Port Alberni.
She has published five books: bruises & bad haircuts (a book of poetry), rampage;the pathology of an epidemic (grassroots research on missing and murdered women and children in Canada), The Adventures of Bob & Boo (a children’s book), Unlocking the Tin Box (autobiography) and now Through My Lens (fiction based on facts and newspaper clippings).
Hunt does not have any release parties or readings planned at this time due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is hoping to hold some readings later this fall.