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Who was Pierre Berton ?
Pierre Francis Berton, CC, O.Ont, BA, D.Litt (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, including ones on popular culture, Canadian history, critiques of mainstream religion, anthologies, children's books and historical works for youth. He was credited with popularizing Canadian history.
He was born 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, 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.
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.
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. 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 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.
He 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 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.
Berton raised eyebrows in October 2004 by discussing his forty years of recreational use of marijuana on two CBC Television programs, >play and Rick Mercer Report where he gave tips on how to roll a joint.
His childhood home in Dawson City, now called 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 each of Dawson City and Whitehorse. Many books have been created during the tenancy of writers in that house. The Berton House Retreat is sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts, Random House Canada Limited, and Klondike Visitors Association; the administrator is Elsa Franklin.
Pierre Berton Award
2006 recipient, Ken McGoogan
- Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal 2002
- Order of Canada, Companion, 1986.
- Canadian Booksellers Award, 1982.
- Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for non-fiction, 1981
- Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977
- Nellie Award, best public affairs broadcaster in radio, 1978.
- Governor General's Awards for: The Last Spike, 1972; Klondike, 1958; The Mysterious North, 1956.
- Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, 1959.
- 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. ISBN 0-385-65844-3
- 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.
- The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama . Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
- The Invasion of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1980. ISBN 0-316-09216-9
- Flames Across the Border. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981. ISBN 0-316-09217-7
- Why We Act Like Canadians. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982.
- The Klondike Quest. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983.
- Vimy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986. ISBN 0-7710-1339-6
- The Arctic Grail. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988. ISBN 0-385-65845-1
- The Great Depression. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990. ISBN 0-7710-1270-5
- My Times: Living With History 1917-1995. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1995. ISBN 0-385-25528-4
- Marching as to War. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2001. ISBN 0-385-25725-2
- The Battle of Lake Erie. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994 ISBN 0-7710-1424-4 (illustrated by Paul McCusker)
- Attack on Montreal. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995. ISBN 0-7710-1419-8
- Farewell to the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1996. ISBN 0-385-25577-2
- 1967: The Last Good Year. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997. ISBN 0-385-25662-0
- The Canadian Encyclopedia
- CBC Archives
- Order of Canada Citation
- Berton House Writers' Retreat
- Pierre Berton Award
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