pberton.jpgPierre Berton, an historian, television personality and obsessed storyteller, died on Nov. 30 of heart failure. He was 84.
Born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon, Berton worked in the Klondike mining camps while at university. After completing four years of military service, he launched a career in journalism. Berton quickly worked his way up the ranks at The Vancouver Sun, and was only 21 when he became the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily. Within a decade, he was the managing editor of Maclean’s.
Berton was an associate editor and daily columnist for The Toronto Star in the late-1950s when he decided to tackle the medium of television. He joined the CBC public affairs program “Close-Up” and served as a permanent panelist on “Front Page Challenge.” In 1962, Berton premiered his own program, “The Pierre Berton Show,” which aired until 1973. He later wrote and hosted “My Country,” “The Great Debate,” “Heritage Theatre” and “The Secret of My Success.” Sporting his trademark bow tie, Berton wowed viewers of the “Monday Report” in October when he offered tips on the best way to roll a joint.
To call Berton a “prolific writer” would be an understatement. At one point, he wrote 15,000 words a day. Berton penned children’s stories, biographical profiles, religious critiques and coffee table collections, but he was best known for chronicling Canada’s past in the books “Klondike,” “The National Dream” and “Pierre Berton’s Canada: The Land and the People.” His 50th book, “Prisoners of the North,” was published in 2004.
Berton received many accolades, including three Governor General’s Awards for nonfiction, two National Newspaper Awards, the Stephen Leacock Medal of Humour and a Companion of the Order of Canada. A library in Vaughan, Ont., bears his name and houses his entire collection of writings. Canada’s National History Society named its annual award for outstanding achievement in popularizing Canadian history after Berton; he was its first recipient as well. Berton was inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1998, and ranked No. 31 on the CBC’s list of The Greatest Canadians earlier this year.
“You’ll never die, Pierre,” author June Callwood said at Berton’s memorial service. “You’re gone, but you’ll never die.”