The Birth of Hemingway's First Child--John, called Bumby--in Toronto, Canada, Part I

Sharon Hamilton
Photograph of Toronto in the 1920s
Toronto in the 1920s, public domain photo courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives


In a letter to a friend written in the fall of 1923, Hemingway made clear that the Canadian city of Toronto was the right place for him and his pregnant wife Hadley to have moved from their home in Paris. Already having worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star,1 he believe not only that a permanent job as a staff writer for the paper would help secure financial stability for his growing family, but also that Toronto was "the right place to have a baby."2

Toronto then, as now, had a reputation for cutting-edge medical services. In the 1920s, the city’s medical researchers included one of the world’s most famous innovators, Dr. Frederick Banting, the inventor of insulin. Banting granted Ernest a rare interview that, only much later, has been identified as an unsigned Hemingway article for the Toronto Star.3 For her part, Hadley realized it would make sense for the family to have a steady income and to be in a place known for the quality of its medical care. More, she realized that if they made the move from Paris, France, to Canada for her to have the baby that the care she received would be in English, an important consideration.4

Hemingway managed to get the staff position with the Toronto Star that he sought but unfortunately—in an event that negatively colored his time in the city—he ended up working for Harry Hindmarsh, a reporter who had earned his position in management by marrying the publisher’s daughter. Having climbed the journalistic ladder via matrimonial means, it’s likely Hindmarsh was self-conscious and felt inferior around a writer of genuine talent. Envy of a colleague’s abilities is one of the primary motivations for office bullying and it’s beyond evident that Hindmarsh went out of his way to harass this new employee.5

Hindmarsh employed tactics against Ernest that remain typical of office bullies. He denied him credit for his work, often refusing to publish Hemingway’s articles under a byline; he sent Ernest on long trips to cover minor stories; and he piled on enough work to make Hemingway permanently exhausted. Both Ernest and Hadley’s letters from this time refer to Hemingway’s 14-hour workdays and his constant fatigue.

In what must have felt like an ultimate act of psychological battery, Hindmarsh sent Hemingway off to cover an unimportant story in New York—the visit of a former British Prime Minister—during the same period when Hadley was expected to go into labor. Ernest must have been frantic.

Hemingway was a medically informed father-to-be. As Susan Beegel discussed in an engaging and deeply informative presentation to the Hemingway Society, Ernest received what amounted to a medical education from his father.6 In particular, from a very young age, Ernest learned about the dangers of childbirth, and knew the risks that hung over every expectant mother.

Hemingway’s older sister Marcelline recalled in her memoirs that on one occasion Ernest accompanied his father to see a surgery in an Oak Park operating theatre. She does not specify the type of operation, but given Clarence Hemingway’s area of specialization, Beegel speculated that it might have been a cesarean section.Beegel also pointed out that in 1908 Clarence had published an article on the sudden death that might come for a recently delivered mother.8 Whether or not Hemingway had read his father’s article, he grew up in circumstances that exposed him, constantly, to this truth.

Women in labor show up all over the place in Hemingway’s fiction, and often the circumstances of the birth are difficult. Perhaps the most famous of all Hemingway’s stories related to childbirth is the short story “Indian Camp.” Hemingway critics have long debated whether there could be a possible autobiographical source for the story, especially given that Clarence did provide medical services to indigenous people who lived close to the Hemingway family cottage on Walloon Lake, Michigan.

Autobiography appears to have informed many of Hemingway’s early stories about childbirth. As J. Gerald Kennedy observed during a OneTruePodcast interview about editing the Norton Critical Edition of Hemingway’s 1925 publication In Our Time, Ernest’s nervousness about first-time fatherhood influenced his thinking as he wrote this book, and appears as a subtext to such stories as “Out of Season.”

Right when Hemingway was needed the most by his pregnant wife, Hindmarsh sent him to New York knowing full well that Hadley might go into labor. Although Toronto was renowned for its expert care of pregnant mothers, Ernest must have worried about having to go away. And we know for sure he felt sick about what happened next.

                                                                                              to be continued . . .


Works Cited

Beegel, Susan. “‘How Do You Like Being an Interne’: The Medical Education of Ernest Hemingway,” Presentation to the international Hemingway Society, 23 July 2020:

Bliss, Michael. “Sir Frederick Banting,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 19 September 2012 [updated 17 December 2021]

Burrill, William. Hemingway: The Toronto Years. Toronto: Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1994.

Diliberto, Gioia. Paris Without End. Harper Perennial, 2011. Ebook

Hamilton, Sharon. “Hemingway in Toronto,” Presentation to the international Hemingway Society, 10 October 2023,

Hemingway, Ernest. Ernest Hemingway: Letters 1923-25 vol. 2 Edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. Defazio III, and Robert Trogdon.  Cambridge University Press, 2013.

----. “The Hemingway Papers,” The Toronto Star, 2012,

Kennedy, J. Gerard. “J. Gerard Kennedy On In Our Time,” Interview. OneTruePodcast, 18 April 2022,

Sanford, Marcelline Hemingway. At The Hemingways: A Family Portrait. Little, Brown, [1961] 1962.


Several articles written by Ernest Hemingway for the Toronto Star have been digitized by the newspaper and can be accessed online:

Ernest Hemingway to Ezra Pound [6-8 Sept. 1923], Ernest Hemingway: Letters 1923-25 vol. 2 Edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. Defazio III, and Robert Trogdon. Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 45.

“An Absolute Lie, Says Dr. Banting of Serum Report.” Toronto Star, October 11, 1923. Rpt. in William Burrill, Hemingway: The Toronto Years. Toronto: Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1994, pp. 354-355.

These inferences are drawn from Gioia Diliberto’s biography of Hadley Paris Without End, in which she writes: “Hadley distrusted European medical procedures and wanted to have her baby in a setting closer to home.” See Diliberto, Gioia. Paris Without End. Harper Perennial, 2011. Ebook.

The Hemingway / Hindmarsh adversarial relationship is extensively documented in William Burrill’s Hemingway: The Toronto Years, in which he draws on the testimony and memoirs of Hemingway’s colleagues at the Star to document what reporters called “The Hindmarsh treatment.” This included the practice of reducing talented reporters down to size by giving them “more or less common assignments after they had done an outstanding piece of work and were proud of themselves.” Hemingway’s colleagues described Hindmarsh as someone “ambitious, cruel, and jealous of the success of others.” See Burrill, William. Hemingway: The Toronto Years. Toronto: Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1994, pp. 154, 160.

Susan Beegel “‘How Do You Like Being an Interne’: The Medical Education of Ernest Hemingway,” Presentation to the international Hemingway Society, 23 July 2020:

In her memoir At the Hemingways, this was what Marcelline wrote about the experience: “Dressed in a white gown, [Ernest] was permitted to stand at the top rear of the operating theater at the hospital where Daddy was on the staff as head of obstetrics. Ernie was interested, but he sat down when he felt faint and he did not go again,” p. 134.not go again.

8Clarence Hemingway, “Sudden death that may come to a recently delivered mother” Rpt. in The Hemingway Review, 22 March 1999, pp. 43-45.


Sharon Hamilton is a member of the Hemingway Society Board. She has blogged previously for the Hemingway Society about Hemingway and Hadley’s Chicago ApartmentHemingway’s New Orleans, and the baseball ticket stub the author took with him to the front in World War I. In October 2023, she presented a webinar on "Hemingway in Toronto" to members of the Hemingway Society.

Sharon Hamilton 10/30/2023

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