Pierre Berton

From New World Encyclopedia

Pierre Francis Berton, (July 12, 1920 – November 30, 2004) was a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, especially Canadiana and Canadian history, and was a well-known television personality and journalist.

An accomplished storyteller, Berton was one of Canada's most prolific and popular authors. He wrote 50 books, covering popular culture, Canadian history, critiques of mainstream religion, anthologies, children's books and historical works for youth. He is credited with popularizing Canadian history and is perhaps that nation's best–loved writer. He received nearly 40 awards and recognitions throughout his life and was honored with a dozen honorary degrees.

Pierre Berton died in Toronto on November 30, 2004 of congestive heart failure. He was survived by his wife Janet and eight children. At the time of his passing he had 14 grandchildren. Ten years before his death he wrote in a Toronto Star newspaper column that he hoped his obituary would read, "a great Canadian voice has died after a long battle with life." [1]


Pierre Francis Berton was born July 20, 1920 in Whitehorse, Yukon, and raised in the Yukon, where his parents had moved for the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. He worked in Klondike mining camps during his years as a history major at the University of British Columbia, where he also worked on the student paper "The Ubyssey." He spent his early newspaper career in Vancouver, British Columbia, where at the age of 21 he was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily, replacing editorial staff that had been called to serve during the Second World War.

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. 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. Due to a background in university COTC and inspired by other citizen-soldiers who had been commissioned, he sought training as an officer. [2]

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 notified for overseas duty many times, and was granted embarkation leave many times, each time finding his overseas draft being cancelled. 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. In the U.K., he was told that he would have to re–qualify as an Intelligence Officer because the syllabus in the U.K. 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]


Berton moved to Toronto in 1947, and at the age of 31 was named managing editor of Maclean's. 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. He joined the Toronto Star as associate editor and columnist in 1958, leaving in 1962, returning to television to commence The Pierre Berton Show, which ran until 1973. Thereafter he appeared as host and writer on My Country, The Great Debate, Heritage Theatre, The Secret of My Success and The National Dream.

He 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 National Heritage Award.

He is a member of Canada's Walk of Fame, having been inducted in 1998. In The Greatest Canadian project, he was voted #31 in the list of great Canadians.

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 $(Canadian)12.6 million Pierre Berton Resource Library, named in his honor, was opened in Vaughan, Ontario. He had lived in nearby Kleinburg, Ontario, for about 50 years.

Berton died at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, reportedly of heart failure, at the age of 84 on November 30, 2004.

His childhood home in Dawson City, now known as "Berton House," is a writers' retreat. Established writers apply for three-month long subsidized residencies there; while in residence, they give a public reading in both Dawson City and Whitehorse. Many books have been created during the tenancy of writers. The Berton House Retreat is sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts, Random House Canada Limited, and Klondike Visitors Association.



Pierre Berton, though known most widely for his numerous books, was also an important television presence from the earliest days of Canadian television. For more than 30 years he was a constant presence, and by the 1970s was perhaps the most well known and highly popular television personality.

His shows included:

  • 1957-1995 Front Page Challenge (weekly panelist)
  • 1957-1963 Close-Up (host)
  • 1972-1973 The Pierre Berton Show (host)
  • 1974 The National Dream (writer/narrator) series in eight parts
  • 1976 Greenfell
  • 1979 The Dionne Quintuplets (writer)
  • 1984-1987 Heritage Theatre (story editor/host)
  • 1985 Spirit of Batoche
  • 1988 The Secret of My Success (writer/interviewer) [4]


Berton's books with description

Berton was both a journalist and an historian, a combination that endeared him to his fellow countrymen as he brought Canadian history to life through his writings. His 50 books include:

Berton wrote the forward to this book which features the contributions of writers who have won recognition as some of Canada's best known historians and writers.
The lives of five inspiring and controversial characters are chronicled in these tales of courage, fortitude, and adventure in Canada’s harsh north.
  • The Joy of Writing; A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2003, ISBN 9780385659987
A witty and practical guide for writers, including interviews with nearly 30 of Canada's best known authors.
A collection of lively cat tales!
“I have called this period Canada’s Turbulent Years – turbulent not only because of the battles we fought on the African veldt, the ravaged meadows of Flanders, the forbidding spine of Italy, and the conical hills of Korea, but turbulent in other ways. These were Canada’s formative years, when she resembled an adolescent, grappling with the problems of puberty, often at odds with her parents, craving to be treated as an adult, hungry for the acclaim of her peers, and wary of the dominating presence of a more sophisticated neighbour.” – From the Introduction
Features true stories of mystery, romance, tragedy and heroism, from the piracy of Bill Johnston, scourge of the Saint Lawrence, to the weird saga of Brother XII and his mystic cult on Vancouver Island.
Details the adventures of those drawn to the Falls; heroes and villains, eccentrics and daredevils, scientists, and power brokers, visionaries and industrialists and the lives they've created.
Berton tells with passion the stories of Canada's settlers—a million people who filled a thousand miles of prairie in a single generation.
A children's book based on the adventures of five children as they discover and explore a vast,mysterious world of caverns and rivers hidden beneath a trapdoor in the floor of their clubhouse.
Bertons' best-selling book details the North's great quests: the search for the Passage linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the international race to reach the North Pole. Includes tales of Edward Parry, John Franklin, Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen. He also credits the Inuit, whose tracking and hunting skills saved the lives of the adventurers and their men countless times.
  • The Great Depression, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990, ISBN 0771012705
In this best-seller, Berton retells the decade in Canada's history which began with the stock market crash of 1929 and ended with the Second World War. A child of the era, he writes passionately of people starving in the midst of plenty.
  • Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001, 1972, ISBN 0385658443
Winner of the Governor General's award for non-fiction, Klondike is authentic history and considered a must-read for anyone interested in the Canadian frontier.
Recounts the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge. Berton brings to life the moment of tragedy and greatness that marked Canada's emergence as a nation.
  • Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981, ISBN 0316092177
The War of 1812 is told in vivid prose as the heroes and heroines, as well as the villians and cowards, of this 'bloody and senseless' conflict are brought to life.
  • The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1980, ISBN 0316092169
A lively tale of the first year of war on the U.S.-Canadian border. "Berton believes that if there had been no war, most of Ontario would probably be American today; and if the war had been lost by the British, all of Canada would now be part of the United States. But the War of 1812, or more properly the myth of the war, served to give the new settlers a sense of community and set them on a different course from that of their neighbours."
The adventures of the men who, between 1881 and 1885, helped forge Canada into one nation through the building of the 2,000–mile Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • The National Dream:The Great Railway, 1871-1881, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974, ISBN 0771013329
Chronicles the fight for, or against, the great Canadian Railway. Berton used diaries, letters, unpublished manuscripts, public documents and newspapers to reconstruct this incredible decade.
  • Welcome To The 21st Century: More Absurdities From Our Time, Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2000, ISBN 9780385258180
A humorous look back at the twentieth century, with equally humorous visions of the upcoming century.
  • Worth Repeating: A Literary Resurrection, Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1999, ISBN 9780385257374
Written over a period of 50 years; a compilation of some of Berton's favorite essays, articles, bits of history, chapters from out-of-print books, an occasional verse, and a stage sketch or two.
Canada's centennial year, described by Berton himself: "It was a golden year, and so it seems in retrospect—a year in which we let off steam like schoolboys whooping and hollering at term's end… By any number of measurements we are healthier and wealthier than in 1967. If we are better off today, then why all the hand wringing?"
  • My Times: Living With History 1917-1995, Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1995, ISBN 0385255284
A record of Berton's journalistic history and the stories behind the stories.
  • The comfortable pew; a critical look at Christianity and the religious establishment in the new age, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965
Berton's most controversial work, this book caused a commotion when it was released in 1965. Among other things, Berton accused church leaders of "sitting on the fence" and thereby supporting the use of atomic weapons in Japan at the end of World War II.
  • The Smug Minority, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968
Berton challenges the concepts of the status quo and society in general as he questions the "normalcy" of life in the twentieth century regarding work, happiness, security and freedom. [5]
  • The Mysterious North: Encounters with the Canadian Frontier,1947-1954, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1956
Winner of the Governor-General's Award. This is an adventure story and more, moving from the the Ice Age to the present.
  • Why We Act Like Canadians; A personal exploration of our national character, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982, ISBN 0771013647
A humorous and affectionate look at what makes Candadians different from their American cousins.
  • The Klondike Quest, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983
In the author's own words: "In many ways the great quest was an approximation of life itself, for in its several stages it mirrored the naïvité of childhood, the enthusiasm of youth, the disillusionment of middle age, and the wisdom of maturity." [6]

Berton's additional books

  • Berton, Pierre, The Cool, Crazy, Committed World of the Sixties, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966
  • Berton, Pierre, The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama , Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977
  • Berton, Pierre, The Battle of Lake Erie, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994, ISBN 0771014244
  • Berton, Pierre, Attack on Montreal, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995, ISBN 0771014198
  • Berton, Pierre, Farewell to the Twentieth Century, Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1996, ISBN 0385255772
  • Berton, Pierre, and André Gallant. 1996. The Great Lakes. Toronto: Stoddart. ISBN 0773729712
  • Berton, Pierre. 1974. Drifting home. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0394490819
  • Berton, Pierre. 1965. My war with the 20th century. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Harvard
  • Berton, Pierre. 1963. The Big Sell: An Introduction to the Black Arts of Door-to-Door Salesmanship & Other Techniques. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1958. Canada from Sea to Sea. Kings Printer.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1975. Hollywood's Canada: the Americanization of our national image. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0771012233
  • Berton, Pierre. 1962. Fast fast fast relief. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1966. Just add water and stir. Canadian best-seller library, 14. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1976. My country: the remarkable past. Toronto: McClelland Stewart. ISBN 0771013930
  • Rossier, Henri, and Pierre Berton. 1961. The new city, a prejudiced view of Toronto. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1984. The promised land: settling the West 1896-1914. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0771012438
  • Berton, Pierre. 1954. The royal family: the story of the British monarchy from Victoria to Elizabeth. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Berton, Pierre. 1993. Starting out: the days of my youth, 1920-1947. Toronto: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140117601


In his lifetime, Berton received 37 awards and recognitions, along with a dozen honorary degrees.

  • 1956 Governor-General's Award, Creative Non-Fiction, for The Mysterious North
  • 1958 Governor-General's Award, Creative Non-Fiction, for Klondike
  • 1959 J.V. McAree Award, Columnist of the Year
  • 1959 Canadian Film Award, City of Gold
  • 1960 Stephen Leacock Medal of Humour
  • 1961 National Newspaper Award, Feature Writing
  • 1961 National Newspaper Award, Staff Corresponding
  • 1967 Canadian Authors' Association Award, "Canada's Man of the Century"
  • 1972 ACTRA "Nellie," Integrity and Outspokenness in Broadcasting
  • 1972 Governor-General's Award, Creative Non-Fiction, for The Last Spike
  • 1975 Officer of the Order of Canada
  • 1978 ACTRA "Nellie," Best Public Affairs Broadcaster in Radio
  • 1981 Canadian Authors' Association Literary Award for Non-Fiction
  • 1981 The Alumni Award of Distinction, University of British Columbia
  • 1982 Canadian Booksellers' Author Award
  • 1982 Ontario History & Social Science Teachers' Association Perspective Award
  • 1982 World Tourism Day Medal
  • 1983 Beefeater Club Prize for Literature
  • 1983 Member - Canadian News Hall of Fame
  • 1986 Companion of the Order of Canada
  • 1989 Gabrielle Léger National Heritage Award
  • 1989 Coles Book Award
  • 1990 Order of Mariposa
  • 1990 Great Trekker Award, University of British Columbia
  • 1990 Periodical Marketers of Canada, Book of the Year Award, for The Arctic Grail
  • 1991 Periodical Marketers of Canada, Authors Award, for The Great Depression
  • 1992 Graeme Gibson Award
  • 1992 Periodical Marketers of Canada, Authors Award for Leadership
  • 1992 Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation
  • 1994 First recipient of Canada's National History Society: The Pierre Berton Award
  • 1996 Responsibility in Journalism Award, The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal
  • 1997 Biomedical Science Ambassador's Award
  • 1998 Canada's Walk of Fame
  • 2002 Design and Building Award – to historical development of Canada by the Canadian Construction Association, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada and Construction Specifications Canada
  • 2002 Canadian Railway Hall of Fame Award of Recognition
  • 2003 Humanist Award
  • 2004 Vaughan Public Libraries opens The Pierre Berton Resource Library

Honorary Degrees

  • 1973 LL.D. (Prince Edward Island)
  • 1974 D. LITT (York University) Toronto, Ontario
  • 1978 LL.D. (Dalhousie University) New Brunswick
  • 1981 LL.D. (Brock University) St. Catharines, Ontario
  • 1981 D. LITT (University of Windsor) Ontario
  • 1982 D.A.U. (Athabaska University) Alberta
  • 1983 LL.D. (University of Victoria) British Columbia
  • 1983 D. LITT (McMaster University) Hamilton, Ontario
  • 1984 LL.D. (Royal Military College) Kingston, Ontario
  • 1984 DFA (University of Alaska)
  • 1985 LL.D. (University of British Columbia) British Columbia
  • 1988 LL.D. (University of Waterloo) Ontario [7]


Pierre Berton was greatly loved throughout Canada for his ability to touch the patriotic soul through his own patriotism and pride in his country. His legacy can best be voiced by those who knew and loved him:

  • "His passing silences a great Canadian voice, but his work will live on to enrich the lives of Canadians for generations to come." Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin on Berton's death [8]
  • "On a personal level I've lost a best friend, on a national level, the whole country has lost a best friend." Author June Callwood.
  • "Berton was the most remarkable writer of Canadian historical events in the last 50 years. So much of our nationhood and our collective identity as Canadians were created by him." Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
  • "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." Prime Minister Paul Martin. [9]


  1. Myrna Oliver. December 7, 2004. Obituaries: Pierre Berton, Canadian Writer, Historian, Talk Show Host, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. Retrieved May 25, 2007.
  2. Pierre Berton. Starting Out. (McLelland and Stewart, 1987).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Television, Pierre Berton Webpage. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  5. Description of books from Pierre Berton Writer and books, Pierre Berton Webpage. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  6. The Klondike Quest, Yukon Info.com. Retrieved May 10, 2007.
  7. Information on awards and honors from Pierre Berton Awards and Recognition, Pierre Berton Webpage. Retrieved May 11, 2007.
  8. Myrna Oliver. December 7, 2004. Obituaries: Pierre Berton, 84, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. Retrieved May 11, 2007.
  9. CTVA can News Staff. December 1, 2004. Beloved Canadian author Pierre Berton dies, CTVca. Retrieved May 11, 2007.

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External links

All links retrieved November 23, 2022.


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