Pierre Berton

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Pierre Berton

Pierre Berton and Ruby the cat.png
Berton and Ruby in their later years at Kleinburg, Ontario
BornPierre Francis de Marigny Berton
(1920-07-12)July 12, 1920
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
DiedNovember 30, 2004(2004-11-30) (aged 84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting place Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada
  • Non-fiction author
  • journalist
Alma mater University of British Columbia
Janet Berton
m. 1946)

Pierre Francis de Marigny Berton CC OOnt (July 12, 1920 – November 30, 2004) was a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, especially Canadiana and Canadian history, and was a television personality and journalist. He won many honours and awards for his books.


An accomplished storyteller, Berton was one of Canada's most prolific and popular authors. He wrote on popular culture, Canadian history, critiques of mainstream religion, anthologies, children's books and historical works for youth. He was also a founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada's writing community. Berton's 50 books became popular in part due to his light and fast-paced writing style.

Early years

He was born on July 12, 1920, in Whitehorse, Yukon, where his father had moved for the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. [2] His family moved to Dawson City, Yukon in 1921. [2] His mother, Laura Beatrice Berton (née Thompson) was a school teacher in Toronto until she was offered a job as a teacher in Dawson City at the age of 29 in 1907. She met Frank Berton in the nearby mining town of Granville shortly after settling in Dawson and teaching kindergarten. Laura Beatrice Berton's autobiography of life in the Yukon entitled I Married the Klondike was published in her later years and gave her, what her son Pierre describes as 'a modicum of fame, which she thoroughly enjoyed.' [3]

Berton's family moved to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1932. At age 12 he joined the Scout Movement and later wrote that "The Scout Movement was the making of me". He credited Scouting with keeping him from becoming a juvenile delinquent. He started his journalism career in scouting and later wrote that "the first newspaper I was ever associated with was a weekly typewritten publication issued by the Seagull Patrol of St. Mary’s Troop." He remained in scouting for seven years and wrote about his experiences in an article titled "My Love Affair with the Scout Movement". [4]

Like his father, Pierre Berton worked in Klondike mining camps during his years as a history major at the University of British Columbia, [5] where he also worked on the student paper The Ubyssey . [6] He spent his early newspaper career in Vancouver, where at 21 he was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily, replacing editorial staff that had been called up during the Second World War. [3]

Pierre Berton's childhood home in Dawson City Pierre Berton Home.JPG
Pierre Berton's childhood home in Dawson City

Berton himself was conscripted into the Canadian Army under the National Resources Mobilization Act in 1942 and attended basic training in British Columbia, nominally as a reinforcement soldier intended for The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. [3] He elected to "go Active" (the euphemism for volunteering for overseas service) and his aptitude was such that he was appointed Lance Corporal and attended NCO school, and became a basic training instructor in the rank of corporal. [3] Due to a background in university Canadian Officers' Training Corps (COTC) and inspired by other citizen-soldiers who had been commissioned, he sought training as an officer. [3]

Berton spent the next several years attending a variety of military courses, becoming, in his words, the most highly trained officer in the military. He was warned for overseas duty many times, and was granted embarkation leave many times, each time finding his overseas draft being cancelled. [3] A coveted trainee slot with the Canadian Intelligence Corps saw Berton, now a Captain, trained to act as an Intelligence Officer (IO), and after a stint as an instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, he finally went overseas in March 1945. [3] In the UK, he was told that he would have to requalify as an IO because the syllabus in the UK was different from that in the intelligence school in Canada. By the time Berton had requalified, the war in Europe had ended. He volunteered for the Canadian Army Pacific Force (CAPF), granted a final "embarkation leave", and found himself no closer to combat employment by the time the Japanese surrendered in September 1945. [3]

In 1947 he went on an expedition to the Nahanni River with pilot Russ Baker. Berton's account for the Vancouver Sun was picked up by International News Service, making him a noted adventure-travel writer. [7]

Later life

Editor in Toronto

Pierre Berton's Star on Canada's Walk of Fame Pierre Berton Star on Canada's Walk of Fame.jpg
Pierre Berton's Star on Canada's Walk of Fame

Berton moved to Toronto in 1947. At the age of 31 he was named managing editor of Maclean's . [3] In 1957, he became a key member of the CBC's public affairs flagship program, Close-Up, and a permanent panelist on the popular television show Front Page Challenge . [8] That same year, he also narrated the Academy Award-nominated National Film Board of Canada documentary City of Gold , exploring life in his hometown of Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. [9] He then released an album in conjunction with Folkways Records, entitled The Story of the Klondike: Stampede for Gold – The Golden Trail. [10]

Berton joined the Toronto Star as associate editor of the Star Weekly and columnist for the daily paper in 1958, leaving in 1962 to commence The Pierre Berton Show , which ran until 1973. [8] On this show in 1971 Berton interviewed Bruce Lee in what was to be the famous martial artist's only surviving television interview. Berton's television career included spots as host and writer on My Country , The Great Debate , Heritage Theatre , The Secret of My Success and The National Dream . [8] From 1966 to 1984, Berton and long-time collaborator Charles Templeton made the daily syndicated radio debate show Dialogue, based first at CFRB and later at CKEY.[ citation needed ]

Berton served as the chancellor of Yukon College and, along with numerous honorary degrees, received over 30 literary awards such as the Governor General's Award for Creative Non-Fiction (three times), the Stephen Leacock Medal of Humour, and the Gabrielle Léger Award for Lifetime Achievement in Heritage Conservation.[ citation needed ] He is a member of Canada's Walk of Fame, having been inducted in 1998. In The Greatest Canadian project, he was voted No. 31 in the list of great Canadians. [8] Berton was named Toronto Humanist of the Year 2003 by the Humanist Association of Toronto. The honour is presented by H.A.T. to men and women who, in their actions and creative endeavours, exemplify the principles of Humanism: a commitment to reason, compassion, ethics and human dignity. [11] He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, [12] Canada's highest decoration, and was also a member of the Order of Ontario.[ citation needed ]


In 2004, Berton published his 50th book, Prisoners of the North, after which he announced in an interview with CanWest News Service that he was retiring from writing. On October 17, 2004, the $12.6 million CAD Pierre Berton Resource Library, named in his honour, was opened in Vaughan, Ontario. [13] [14]

He had lived in nearby Kleinburg, Ontario, for about 50 years. [15]

Berton attracted attention in October 2004 by discussing his 40 years of recreational use of marijuana on two CBC Television programs, Play and Rick Mercer Report . On the latter show he gave a "celebrity tip" on how to roll a joint. [16] [17] [18]

Personal life

Berton was an atheist. [19]


Berton died at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, reportedly of heart failure, at the age of 84 on November 30, 2004. [2] His cremated remains were scattered at his home in Kleinburg. He was survived by his wife and their eight children, along with 14 grandchildren. [19]


Established in 1994, the Pierre Berton Award is presented annually by Canada's National History Society for distinguished achievement in presenting Canadian history in an informative and engaging manner. Berton was the first recipient and agreed to lend his name to future awards. [20]

His childhood home in Dawson City, Yukon, now called Berton House, is currently used as a retreat for professional Canadian writers. Established authors apply for a three-month-long subsidized residency, adding to the area's literary community with events such as local public readings. Previously, the Berton House Writers' Retreat was administered by the Berton House Writers' Retreat Society and Elsa Franklin, Pierre Berton's long-time editor and agent. In October 2007, the deed to Berton House was passed to the Writers' Trust of Canada; the literary organization now oversees the program as part of its roster of literary support. [21]

A school in Vaughan, Ontario, was named for Pierre Berton in the York Region District School Board in September 2011. The Berton family visited and had an official opening of the school in front of the students.


Honorary degrees

Pierre Berton received many honorary degrees in recognition of his work as a writer and historian. These include:

Flag of Prince Edward Island.svg Prince Edward Island1973 University of Prince Edward Island Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [24]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioSpring 1974 York University Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [25]
Flag of Nova Scotia.svg Nova Scotia1978 Dalhousie University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [26]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioJune 5, 1981 Brock University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [27]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioJune 6, 1981 University of Windsor Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [28]
Flag of Alberta.svg Alberta1982 Athabasca University Doctor of Athabasca University (D.AU) [29]
Flag of British Columbia.svg British ColumbiaMay 1983 University of Victoria Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [30]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioNovember 1983 McMaster University Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [31]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioMay 18, 1984 Royal Military College of Canada Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [32] [33]
Flag of Alaska.svg Alaska1984 University of Alaska Fairbanks Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA) [34]
Flag of British Columbia.svg British ColumbiaMay 30, 1985 University of British Columbia Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [35]
Flag of Ontario.svg Ontario1988 University of Waterloo Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [36]
Flag of Ontario.svg OntarioJune 7, 2002 University of Western Ontario Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [37]

Bibliography of Pierre Berton’s books

Year of Publications and Title

  1. 1953 The Royal Family
  2. 1954 The Golden Trail: The Story of the Klondike Rush (Young Reader)
  3. 1956 The Mysterious North: Encounters with the Canadian Frontier, 1947-1954
  4. 1958 The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush
  5. 1959 Just Add Water and Stir
  6. 1960 Adventures of a Columnist
  7. 1961 The Secret World of Og (Young Reader)
  8. 1961 The New City : a prejudiced view of Toronto (Picture Book)
  9. 1962 Fast, Fast, Fast Relief
  10. 1963 The Big Sell
  11. 1965 My War with the Twentieth Century (Anthology)
  12. 1965 The Comfortable Pew
  13. 1965 Remember Yesterday (Picture Book)
  14. 1966 Pierre & Janet Berton's Canadian Food Guide (Anthology)
  15. 1966 The Cool, Crazy, Committed World of the Sixties
  16. 1968 The Smug Minority
  17. 1970 The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871-1881
  18. 1971 The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881-1885
  19. 1972 Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899 (Revised and information added to 1958 Edition)
  20. 1972 The Great Railway: The Building of the Canadian Pacific Illustrated (Picture Book)
  21. 1973 Drifting Home
  22. 1975 Hollywood's Canada: The Americanization of the National Image
  23. 1976 My Country: The Remarkable Past
  24. 1977 The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama
  25. 1978 The Wild Frontier: more tales from the remarkable past
  26. 1980 The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813
  27. 1981 Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814
  28. 1982 Why We Act Like Canadians:
  29. 1983 The Klondike Quest (Picture Book)
  30. 1984 The Promised Land: Settling the West 1896-1914
  31. 1985 Masquerade (as "Lisa Kroniuk") (Fiction)
  32. 1986 Vimy
  33. 1987 Starting Out: 1920-1947
  34. 1988 The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909
  35. 1990 The Great Depression: 1929-1939
  36. 1992 Niagara: A History of the Falls
  37. 1993 Niagara: Picture Book (Picture Book)
  38. 1994 Winter (Picture Book)
  39. 1995 My Times: Living With History, 1947-1995
  40. 1996 Farewell to the Twentieth Century (Anthology)
  41. 1996 The Great Lakes (Picture Book)
  42. 1997 1967: The Last Good Year
  43. 1998 Worth Repeating: A Literary Resurrection (Anthology)
  44. 1999 Seacoasts (Picture Book)
  45. 1999 Welcome To The 21st Century: More Absurdities From Our Time (Anthology)
  46. 1999 Pierre Berton's Canada: The Land and the People (Picture Book)
  47. 2001 Marching as to War: Canada's Turbulent Years
  48. 2002 Cats I Have Known and Loved
  49. 2003 The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir
  50. 2004 Prisoners of the North

History for Young Canadians

The Battles of the War of 1812

  1. 1991 The Capture of Detroit
  2. 1991 The Death of Isaac Brock
  3. 1991 Revenge of the Tribes
  4. 1991 Canada Under Siege
  5. 1994 The Battle of Lake Erie
  6. 1994 The Death of Tecumseh
  7. 1995 Attack on Montreal

Exploring the Frozen North

  1. 1992 Parry of the Arctic
  2. 1992 Jane Franklin's Obsession
  3. 1993 Dr. Kane of the Arctic Seas
  4. 1993 Trapped in the Arctic

Canada Moves West

  1. 1992 The Railway Pathfinders
  2. 1992 The Men in Sheepskin Coats
  3. 1992 A Prairie Nightmare
  4. 1992 Steel Across the Plains
  5. 1994 Steel Across the Shield

The Great Klondike Gold Rush

  1. 1991 Bonanza Gold
  2. 1991 The Klondike Stampede
  3. 1992 Trails of '98, City of Gold
  4. 1992 City of Gold
  5. 1993 Kings of the Klondike
  6. 1993 Before the Gold Rush

There is also Berton's abridged version of “The National Dream” and “The Last Spike” that was published in 1974 and a compendium of the two books “The Invasion of Canada” and Flames Across the Border” entitled the “War of 1812” published in 1980,

A comprehensive biography of Pierre Berton was written by A. B. McKillop. It was published in 2008, four years after Berton's death at age of 84.

All of Pierre Berton's writings, including finished books and articles as well as manuscripts, drafts, and research material are now held in the Pierre Berton fonds at the McMaster University Archives here. [38]

Related Research Articles

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