Pierre Berton - Biography
Mr. Berton was born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon, working in Klondike mining camps during his university years. He spent four years in the Army, rising from private to captain/instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston. He spent his early newspaper career in Vancouver, where at 21 he was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily. He moved to Toronto in 1947, and at the age of 31 was named managing editor of Maclean’s, Canada’s largest magazine. In 1957 he became a key member of the CBC’s public affairs flagship program, Close-Up, and was a permanent member panelist on Front Page Challenge, which ran for 38 years. He joined the Toronto Star as associate editor and columnist in 1958, leaving in 1962 to commence his own television program, The Pierre Berton Show, which ran until 1973. Since then he appeared as host and writer on My Country, The Great Debate, Heritage Theatre, and The Secret of My Success. He has written a series of books entitled Adventures in Canadian History live for 12 to 14 year olds. He was the first recipient of the Pierre Berton Award from Canada’s National History Society.
Pierre Berton has worked in all branches of communication. He has written revue sketches for the stage, plays for radio, documentaries for radio, films and television. A daily newspaper column, a musical comedy for the stage, and 50 books, published internationally.
He has won three Governor-General’s Awards for creative non-fiction. He held two National Newspaper Awards, and two ACTRA “Nellies” for broadcasting. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada and a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame.
Pierre Berton, the prolific author and popular television personality, died Tuesday (Nov 29) at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto. He was 84. Berton, who wrote 50 books, was known for compelling, readable histories like 1970's The National Dream and 1971's The Last Spike. During his long career, Berton worked as a newspaper columnist, the editor of Maclean's magazine and a broadcaster. He was instantly recognizable by his anachronistic bow-tie and bushy white sideburns, and he had a penchant for wearing opera cloaks.
June Callwood, the author and activist, credited Berton with creating a hunger for Canadian histories that hadn't previously existed. Callwood had seen him, suffering from heart problems, when he returned from a recent trip to Cuba: "He said 'I'll never write again.'" Within a few weeks, Berton had returned to writing.
Author Mel Hurtig, who was close friends with Berton for 45 years, lauded Berton for his passion for Canada. "He was such a nice guy: good sense of humour, proud, and he hated what he called anti-Canadians – people who put Canadians down and people who weren't proud of their country. I loved him for that."
Statement by Prime Minister Paul Martin on the death of Pierre Berton
“The passing of Pierre Berton is sad news for all Canadians. Mr. Berton was truly one of Canada's great journalists and authors. His ability to chronicle the life and times of our great nation was without peer. His love of Canada, its people and its history, and his personal attachment to the north, was vividly expressed in his numerous books and writings as a journalist. His passing silences a great Canadian voice, but his work will live on to enrich the lives of Canadians for generations to come. “On behalf of our nation, I express the gratitude of all Canadians for the writings of Mr. Berton and what it meant to Canada. Allow me to extend sympathies to his family.”
“Canadian writers, especially those who moil in the trenches, had no better friend, no more tireless a fighter for them, than Pierre Berton. I was privileged to know him as a friend and in many ways as a political mentor. What an example he was to all of us in the Union, and what an inspiration. Even in death, Pierre remains larger than life.”
Benj’s Dawson Bed by Benj Gallander
“The death of Pierre Berton made me think fondly of the time that I spent living at his childhood home in Dawson City, Yukon as the writer in retreat. It was a major departure, residing in that town of a few thousands people, far away from the hubbub of Toronto. The home is full of history. Of course, there are traces of Pierre and his formation. If you shut your eyes, you can see Laura and her husband Frank giving little Pierre a bath in the kitchen as she besieges, “Hurry up before the water cools!”… Upon his death, I showed pictures of Pierre to my son Caellum, now an energetic four-year old, who was attempting to crawl forward when he shared the house with me. I explained to him how the poster in his bedroom of Dawson and the “Proclamation” of his “Arctic Circle Crossing” were a legacy of the largesse of this Canadian icon. We discussed how Pierre had written 50 books and Caellum exclaimed that he wanted to write too. That would have made Pierre happy.”
“With all of the things written and said about the contributions of Pierre Berton to the life of this country, we should remember the enormous contribution that he made to our Union and the lives of writers in this country. Pierre was a founding member of the Writers' Union. Legend has it that it was his intervention that steered the Union away from being a literary organization to become a Union made up of all book writers. For over thirty years he was an active member of TWUC, contributing in his own forceful way. He spent two years on National Council as First Vice Chair and Chair. Pierre was also a founding member of the Writers' Trust and purchased and funded the writers' retreat, Berton House in the Yukon. He knew better than most that writing is a precarious craft and writers need to be nurtured and supported in various ways.”