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Pierre Berton - Canadian Icon

Updated on April 21, 2013

Pierre Berton (1920 - 2004)

I have made this lens for Rocket Moms University - Session 12 - Lesson 2 - Let's Get Niche
My Niche Topic is - Books, Poetry & Writing » Authors » Non Fiction Authors.

Pierre Berton's life is divided into 3 distinct periods for the most part. He was born in Whitehorse and raised in the former goldrush mining town of Dawson in the Yukon territory. He went to secondary school in Victoria, and University in Vancouver, BC. The third and longest period of his life was in the GTA - or the Greater Toronto Area. He and his family lived in a small place called Kleinburg, just outside of Toronto city limits.

Subject » Pierre Francis de Marigny Berton

Born » July 12,1920

Birthplace » Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

Died » November 30, 2004

Location of Death » Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Buy these Pierre Berton books

Pierre Berton wrote 50 books all about Canada

Dawson, Yukon Territory

Pierre Berton was actually born in 1920 in Whitehorse, Yukon, but the family moved back to Dawson City in 1921.

Pierre's father Frank (He may have been called Francois) spent the ages of 6 to 16 in an orphanage in New Brunswick. He probably joined the gold rush as soon as he was old enough, in the hopes that he could make his fortune. The gold rush only lasted for 2 years. It began in 1898 and was over by 1900.

Berton's mother, Laura Berton nee Thompson was a school teacher. She wrote one book about the Yukon, It was called I Married the Klondike. In 1908 when Laura Thompson was 29 years old, she was asked to be the school teacher in Dawson, Yukon. At that time Laura was earning $480 per year as a teacher in Toronto. Dawson City was offering her $2100 per year. It was, of course an easy offer to accept.

By 1920 Whitehorse had a population of 300, and Dawson City was 12,000. Today (in the 21st century) Whitehorse is a territorial government town and thus it has 24,000 people while Dawson City has just 1800. Dawson City is now a Historic place because it is a genuine gold rush town. It receives 60,000 tourists every year.

In his biography, Berton writes about riding his bicycle along Wooden sidewalks past old saloons, dancehalls, brothels, theatres and hotels, most of which were old, decaying, and boarded up. He describes the Victorian architecture, the luxurious but dusty interiors, and mining machinery strewn everywhere, both inside the old buildings, and outside lying along the streets.

In Winter Berton describes going to school in the dark, coming home in the dark, indeed, not even seeing the sun for 6 weeks during December & January. He saw the northern lights regularly and never thought anything of them. In the middle of summer "nothing was really dark in Dawson during that brief six week period when the sun set for less than 2 hours". Dawson City is 200 miles south of the arctic circle so it never truly gets the midnight sun in the summer.

The Bertons childhood home was located at 8th Avenue & Harper in Dawson. It was a small one bedroom house with no bathroom. It is now a historic site and used for a "writers in residence" program.

"In all my years in the Yukon" Berton wrote, "I never saw a wolf. I saw moose, caribou, brown bears, lynx, coyotes and all manner of wildlife from arctic hares to porcupine, but never a wolf. The howl of the wolf was heard frequently." Did you know that Huskies cannot bark. They can only whine or howl. I didn't know that.

I (Serenia) have now lived in Canada for 10 years. But I have not yet been to the Yukon. I have never seen the Northern Lights. It is my solemn vow that I will see Dawson City, the Yukon, The Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights all before I die. I better get cracking, I have less than 40 years to do it in - and that is assuming I live for 80 years.

Victoria Island and Vancouver, British Columbia

Berton (as well as his mother Laura and sister Lucy) moved to Victoria (Island - Vancouver) in 1931 during the depression after his father lost his job. While Berton was in high school Victoria, he discovered his love of writing, and endeavoured to become a journalist. This he did while being on the staff of the Ubyssey (student paper) at UBC in Vancouver.

After he graduated from UBC, Berton got a job on the Vancouver News-Herald where he eventually rose to the position of City Editor by the time he was twenty one years old. Then in 1942 Berton joined the army, and spent 3 years being trained for all manner of things such as infantry, intelligence, officer school and so on.

But he never actually got to see any action. The closest he got to it was in England. When he was finally mustered out in 1945, he married his wife Janet (nee Walker) and tried to get his old city editor job back at the News-Herald. They refused to give it to him, paying him a paltry sum to be just a reporter. So Berton joined the Vancouver Sun Newspaper.

But something in him was still restless, and in 1946 Berton took a trip to the Headless Valley on the South Nahanni River in what is now the Nahanni National Park.

Fabled in 1908 by the disappearance of two prospecting brothers and the subsequent finding of their headless bodies. Headless Creek, Deadmen Valley, Funeral Range, Somber Range and Thundercloud Range were resulting place names and the presence of hot springs encouraged a legend of tropical banana growth. Pierre sent despatches back to the Vancouver Sun (his employer) and these were syndicated around the world. This won him accolades and a job offer from MacLeans Magazine in Toronto. So in late 1947, he and Janet packed up and moved to Toronto.

Berton originally wrote his biography as one book. The early editions were published as one book. But later editions have been split into 2 and published as 2 books. The first book covers Berton's life in Yukon and BC between 1920 and 1947. The second book covers all his years in Toronto and Kleinberg starting from 1948.

Kleinberg, Ontario

Pierre and Janet did spend a couple of years living in Toronto. Eventually Pierre and Janet found a large house in the country. In Kleinberg, just outside of Vaughan at the NW corner of the GTA - Greater Toronto Area. Vaughan is at the junction of Highways 400 and 407. The Berton family prospered and lived in this house for over 50 years. (1950 to 2004). Well Pierre and Janet did anyway. The kids grew up and moved out, like all children do.

Pierre and Janet had six biological children, and one adopted. From eldest to youngest they are Penny, Pamela, Patsy, Peter, Paul, Peggy Ann and Perri. We know their names because of a small, very personal memoir Pierre wrote after a summer trip he and Janet took their kids on, sailing down the Yukon River in August 1972.

This memoir was called Drifting Home, and it includes many personal stories about Pierre and his childhood in Dawson City and along the Yukon River. Some of these stories were later mentioned in his other autobiographies and some stories were not. The 1973 first edition of Drifting Home had a Black cover and photos of Pierre's kids - as they looked in 1972. The eldest daughter Penny was 24, and the youngest daughter, Perri, was 8. This is not a long book. Just 174 pages.

One of the last books Berton ever wrote was called the Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers, Disguised as a Literary Memoir, published in 2003.

On being an author

Pierre Berton was a writer. It was in his blood and for over 50 years he wrote constantly. Berton wrote for Newspapers, for Canada's leading News magazine, for Canadian television and he was a prolific writer of books.

In Vancouver after World war 2, he was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily by the age of 21. He moved to Toronto in 1947 (at age 27), and 4 years later at the age of 31, he was named managing editor of Maclean's magazine. In 1957, he became a key member of the CBC's public affairs flagship program, Close-Up, and a permanent panelist on Front Page Challenge. He joined The Toronto Star as associate editor and columnist in 1958, leaving in 1962 to commence The Pierre Berton Show, which ran (on TV) until 1973.

During this entire time, he was always writing and publishing books. In 1967 Berton was involved in the celebrations for the centenary of Canada's Federation Day. He wrote his first personal memoirs in 1973 after he took his kids on a trip down the Yukon River. He later expanded his memoirs which became his autobiography, published as My Times in one volume in 1995. The one volume has since been split into two. Volume one is now called Starting Out and volume two is called My Times.

We have all read about the Dionne Quintuplets, right? Well Pierre Berton even wrote an article about the Dionne girls for the Canadian Encyclopedia. He may have expanded this article into his book The Dionne Years published in 1977 and later a CBC TV program about the Dionnes in 1979.

Pierre Bertons Books

These are SOME of Pierre Bertons books - NOT ALL.

The Mysterious North: Encounters with the Canadian Frontier,1947-1954. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1956.

Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1958.

The Secret World of Og. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1961 (illustrated by William Winter)

The Comfortable Pew. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965.

The Cool, Crazy, Committed World of the Sixties. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966.

The Smug Minority. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

The National Dream. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970.

The Last Spike. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971.

Drifting Home. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973.

The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama . Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

The Invasion of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1980.

Flames Across the Border. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981.

Why We Act Like Canadians. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982.

The Klondike Quest. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983.

Vimy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986.

The Arctic Grail. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988.

The Great Depression. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990.

My Times: Living With History 1917-1995. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1995.

The Battle of Lake Erie. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994 (illustrated by Paul McCusker)

Attack on Montreal. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995.

Farewell to the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1996.

1967: The Last Good Year. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997.

Welcome To The 21st Century. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2000.

Marching as to War. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2001.

Cats I Have Known and Loved. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2002.

The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers, Disguised as a Literary Memoir. Toronto Doubleday Canada, 2003

The Pierre Berton Show in 1971

The Pierre Berton Show travelled to many places around the world. This particular show was done in Hong Kong in December 1971. This is an interview with Bruce Lee before he died.

Obituaries and memoriams for Pierre Berton

Berton was larger than life. He received many many accolades in his lifetime.

Since I can't copy and paste, I'm going to link to some of the more interesting obituaries.

Pierre Berton's Obituary - Toronto Star

In Memoriam - Pierre Bertons life in TV

Pierre Berton - His entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia

Pierre Berton - Canadian Personality

Just some photos related to Pierre Berton

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. Now used as a retreat for writers in residence.  .The Berton family at home in Dawson in the 1920s. That's young Pierre on the ground with the Prince Valiant haircut. The photo is from volume one of his autobiography, Starting Out.Pierre Berton and family reading The Secret World of Og in 1961In the June 1967 edition of Maclean's magazine, Pierre Berton reviewed Expo 67.This bestseller list is from September 1972 when 4 of Bertons books were bestsellers. The Klondike, The Great Railway, The :Last Spike and the National DreamIt's not enough for Pierre Berton to write his own memoirs and his own autobiography. Oh No. Within 4 years of Bertons death, someone else just has to write Berton's biography all over again. McKillop published this biography of Pierre Berton in 2008Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush. 1896 - 1899. First Published 1958. Frank Berton (Pierre's father) participated in this goldrush.
The Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. Now used as a retreat for writers in residence.  .
The Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. Now used as a retreat for writers in residence. .
The Berton family at home in Dawson in the 1920s. That's young Pierre on the ground with the Prince Valiant haircut. The photo is from volume one of his autobiography, Starting Out.
The Berton family at home in Dawson in the 1920s. That's young Pierre on the ground with the Prince Valiant haircut. The photo is from volume one of his autobiography, Starting Out.
Pierre Berton and family reading The Secret World of Og in 1961
Pierre Berton and family reading The Secret World of Og in 1961
In the June 1967 edition of Maclean's magazine, Pierre Berton reviewed Expo 67.
In the June 1967 edition of Maclean's magazine, Pierre Berton reviewed Expo 67.
This bestseller list is from September 1972 when 4 of Bertons books were bestsellers. The Klondike, The Great Railway, The :Last Spike and the National Dream
This bestseller list is from September 1972 when 4 of Bertons books were bestsellers. The Klondike, The Great Railway, The :Last Spike and the National Dream
It's not enough for Pierre Berton to write his own memoirs and his own autobiography. Oh No. Within 4 years of Bertons death, someone else just has to write Berton's biography all over again. McKillop published this biography of Pierre Berton in 2008
It's not enough for Pierre Berton to write his own memoirs and his own autobiography. Oh No. Within 4 years of Bertons death, someone else just has to write Berton's biography all over again. McKillop published this biography of Pierre Berton in 2008
Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush. 1896 - 1899. First Published 1958. Frank Berton (Pierre's father) participated in this goldrush.
Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush. 1896 - 1899. First Published 1958. Frank Berton (Pierre's father) participated in this goldrush.

Bibliography and Sources for the Photos above

The Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon.

As printed in the Klondike Sun, Dawson city, Yukon, October 31, 1997.

The current Berton Retreat House Programme

McMaster University Collection.

Pierre Berton and family reading the Secret World of Og in 1961.

Yukon 1920s photo from Berton's Autobiography - Volume One Starting Out

Pierre reviews the Fair

Pierre Berton was an established Canadian media personality who received four major literary awards and was made a Companion to the order of Canada. In the June 1967 edition of Maclean's magazine, Pierre Berton reviewed Expo 67.

You'll need to scroll down until you get to the MacLeans cover picture

Berton and his Railway books

Some people were jealous of Berton's success. The bestsellers list for September 1972 shows 4 of Berton's books in the top 10. Klondike was originally published in 1958. It was reprinted in 1972 to cash in on the popularity of Berton's railway books.

Your turn to sound off on Pierre Berton? - Have you heard of this interesting writer?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I have never heard of him, thank you for teaching me!

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 6 years ago

      Never, but I have now :)

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 6 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      No, I hadn't heard of him before

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      A great lens on Pierre Berton but I do not know that much about him.

    • rlivermore profile image

      rlivermore 6 years ago

      No, this was a nice introduction for me!

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 6 years ago

      No, I haven't but I really enjoyed your lens. Nice introduction to his books. Thanks.

    • profile image

      GiftsBonanza 6 years ago

      No, but after reading this can see why he has become an icon in Canada!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 6 years ago

      I've never heard of him...but I think I would like some of his works.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Never heard of him either. Though this was a very interesting lens.

    • profile image

      tssfacts 6 years ago

      What an interesting man. I have never heard of him before either. I am sure that I probably would like some of his books though.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Wow! Would you believe I have never heard of him before? Thanks for the introduction!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 6 years ago from Canada

      Pierre Berton is definitely a Canadian icon. Great lens.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      An interesting and comprehensive bio about Pierre Benton, well done!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for the introduction to Pierre Berton.

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 6 years ago

      Thanks for introducing me to someone I haven't heard about before. (I'm partial to this sort of lens, I admit). Angel Blessings to you!

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 6 years ago from US

      *blessed* by a squid angel ;)

    • profile image

      poutine 6 years ago

      Yes, I have read a few of Pierre Berton's books.

      I admire him greatly.

    • profile image

      TravelingRae 6 years ago

      A great lens about a great author. I have read many of his books and had the privilege of meeting Mr. Berton in 2000 or 2001. I've spent two summers in Dawson City and have sneaked a couple of peeks at his childhood home (there are pictures on my blog). Big thumbs up from me for this lens!

    • profile image

      doug66 5 years ago

      This is an excellent lens kudos to you!

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      BarbaraCasey 5 years ago

      Oh yes, Pam, his daughter, was at Rochdale College the same time I was and Pierre used to take part in some of the activities there. I didn't know about the Yukon origin, though.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image
      Author

      TeacherSerenia 5 years ago

      @BarbaraCasey: Wow. I just read up on Rochdale college and WOW - that's all I can say. What an interesting experiment. Too bad it eventually had to be closed down.

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