Pierre Berton

Pierre Berton, Author, Historian, Journalist & TV Personality

“When we first arrived in Toronto, I felt almost as if I had come from another planet…. In those days, Toronto really was Hogtown: most people considered it to be the dullest community in Canada. The time would come when I would agree. But to me in 1931, it was wonderful. Everything was new, everything was different – from the orange Honey Dew signs that winked on and off to the policeman who stood in the middle of the main intersections twirling stop and go signs.” 

Pierre Berton, Starting Out – 1920-1947, published by McClelland and Stewart

Pierre Berton was one of Canada’s best known Public Historians, writing accounts of Canadian history in an engaging, audience-driven and often humourous way. Berton is regularly regarded as the man who explained what it meant to be Canadian. Overtime, he rose to national icon status for his popularization and devotion to Canadian History through writing and television.

Berton was born on July 12th, 1920 in Whitehorse, Yukon. His family quickly moved to Dawson City, Yukon, and then later again to Victoria, British Columbia. Berton attended high school in Victoria, where he got his first taste of journalism as the founder of his high school newspaper. (1) Outside of writing, Berton returned to the Yukon as a young man, spending many of his summers working in the Klondike mining camps. He eventually explored the history and tales of these camps through his writing, including in his book, Klondike Gold Rush, published in 1958.(2)

In his adult life, Pierre Berton spent the majority of his time researching and writing. At the start of his career, Berton wrote for a variety of publications, including the Vancouver News-Herald (ca. 1942), the Vancouver Sun (1945-47), and Maclean’s magazine (ca. 1947). (3) While living in Toronto, Berton wrote a weekly column in the Toronto Star(1958-62) and became highly involved with writing and hosting for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). (4) Although already well-known for his writing at this time, Berton gained additional public attention as a panel member on the popular CBC show Front Page Challenge, starting in 1957.

Berton perched on locomotive No. 136 while filming the National Dream (1973)

Throughout his career, Berton produced numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction. His history focused books include such titles as, The Last Spike: The Great Railway 1881-1885 (1971), Hollywood’s Canada: The Americanization of Our National Image (1975),The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama (1977), The Invasions of Canada (1980) andVimy (1986). During his lifetime, Berton received heaps of public praise, several honourary degrees and numerous awards for his writing. His awards include three Governor General’s Awards, the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the Order of Canada.


Pierre Berton died at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital on December 1, 2004.


(1)Warren Gerard. Pierre Berton, 84: Canadian icon was outstanding journalist. The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/obituary/atog/article/107961 [accessed 9 May 2009].
(2) Pierre Berton. Canadian Encyclopedia.http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0000707
(3) Ibid.
(4) InDepth: Pierre Berton, Pierre Berton: CBC News Online, November 30, 2004.http://www.cbc.ca/news/obit/berton_pierre/#top [accessed 27 August 2009].

This entry was posted in Toronto's Stories. Bookmark the permalink.