Cover Girl

“Bunny” Bernice Jordan Whims remembers when the jazz was hot.

Written by Doug Whiteway

Posted October 1, 2001

Given that the Beaver is a history magazine and fairly removed from current events, our covers tend to feature people who are — to be perfectly frank — dead. Vanity Fair we ain’t.

So it was a rare pleasure to announce that the cover girl of the Beaver’s June/July 2001 issue, Bernice Jordan, who was a dancer in the Montreal jazz clubs of the 1930s and 1940s, is very much alive, quite well, and still living in Montreal, thank you very much.

She is today Bernice Jordan Whims, having in 1943 married Bill Whims, a soldier on leave from Petawawa whom she met at Rockhead’s Paradise, one of the legendary jazz clubs of the day.

Nicknamed “Bunny,” Bernice began her show-business career as a child singing in the church choir and in amateur singing competitions (the prize money from which she dutifully handed over to her mother), gravitating to dance in admiration of the American show girls who travelled to Montreal to entertain in the clubs.

As a high-school student she was invited to fill in when a show was a girl short for one evening, and the rest, as they say, is history.

She spent the Depression and the war years dancing in the Montreal jazz clubs and singing with bands on the road in remoter communities of Quebec and Ontario, and maintained her show-business career into the 1960s even as the Montreal jazz scene went into decline. Along the way, she raised four children.

In 1999, she and two other Montreal show girls, Olga Spencer Foderingham and Tina Baines Brereton, were featured in a National Film Board production, Show Girls, about the golden era of the Montreal jazz clubs. Bernice points out that her costume, green in the colouration applied to the June/July cover’s original black-and-white photograph, was, in fact, red.

Widowed since the early 1970s, she is now a grandmother of four and still continues to sing in church and at community centres. She is soon to turn eighty-four, and with knee and hip operations doesn’t do the hoofing for which she was famous. Or at least probably shouldn’t, even in a modified form. But how about when she goes to a dance?

“I can’t resist it,” she allows. “It stays in your bones in some way.”

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Bernice Whims passed away one year after this article was published in the October-November 2001 issue of The Beaver.

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