Canada's most significant non-fiction author spent teenage years in Victoria and began his professional writing career in Vancouver, where he had an undistinguished university career at UBC. Born in Whitehorse on July 12, 1920, Dawson City-raised Pierre Berton graduated to professional journalism from his student newspaper days on the Ubyssey (1939-1941). Instead of concentrating on his school work, Berton doubled as a student stringer for the News-Herald, a Vancouver daily. He went to work fulltime for the News-Herald and became City Editor at age 21. Berton was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily. He served in the army (1942-1945), rising from private to captain/instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, also spending some time at the military training centre in Vernon. He returned to Vancouver and joined the Vancouver Sun in 1946. There he became a crony of reporter Jack Webster. Berton and his wife would partially raise another Vancouver-based broadcaster, Vicki Gabereau, whose father worked for the press in Vancouver as a photographer. In 1946, Berton's series of articles about a so-called 'Headless Valley' in the South Nahanni River region captured the public's imagination and prompted a job offer from Maclean's. Berton moved to Toronto in 1947, and at the age of 31 he 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 Front Page Challenge for 39 years. 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. Since then he appeared as host and writer on My Country, The Great Debate, Heritage Theatre and The Secret of My Success. An outspoken critic of capital punishment, Berton was a liberal in the 1950s who supported birth control and abortion, and criticized conventional, organized religion in The Comfortable Pew. He also greatly increased the viability of Canadian publishing. For three decades Berton wrote about one book per year, mainly about Canadian history. Berton won three Governor General's Awards for: The Mysterious North (1956), Klondike (1958) and The Last Spike (1972). The National Dream (1970) and The Last Spike told the story of the background and construction of Canada's first transcontinental railway. Berton also wrote extensively and significantly about Canada's military history and the Arctic. He was honoured with numerous honourary degrees and he served as the Chancellor of Yukon College. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1986.

By the time he ditched his trademark bow-tie in the 1990s, Berton was no longer adequately revered among younger Canadians as the most integral Canadian historian. Given his prominence in Ontario, Berton's formative years in Victoria and Vancouver are seldom cited. One of his lesser-known books is Crystal Gardens: West Coast Pleasure Palace (1977). His 50th and final book was Prisoners of the North (2004) about the lives of Klondike Joe Boyle, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Lady Jane Franklin, John Hornby and Robert Service. He died on November 30, 2004.

Selected Publications:

The Mysterious North: Encounters with the Canadian Frontier, 1947-1954 (Knopf 1956, revised 1989)
The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush (Knopf, 1958)
Adventures of a Columnist (McClelland and Stewart, 1960)
The Secret World of Og (M&S 1961)
The Comfortable Pew. (McClelland and Stewart, 1965)
The Cool, Crazy, Committed World of the Sixties (M&S 1966)
Les Biens-pensants or The Smug Minority (Editions de l'Homme, 1968)
The National Dream (M&S, 1970)
The Last Spike (M&S, 1972)
Drifting Home (McClelland and Stewart, 1973)
Canadian Food Guide (McClelland and Stewart, 1974)
The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama (McClelland and Stewart, 1977)
Crystal Gardens: West Coast Pleasure Palace (Victoria: Crystal Gardens Preservation Society, 1977), co-authored with others.
Why We Act Like Canadians (M&S 1982)
The Klondike Quest (M&S 1983)
Vimy (Random Bouse 1985)
The Arctic Grail (M&S 1988)
The Great Depression (M&S 1990)
Picture Book of Niagara Falls (M&S 1993)
The Battle of Lake Erie (McClelland and Stewart, 1994) [Paul McCusker illustrator].
Attack on Montreal (McClelland and Stewart, 1995)
My Times: Living With History 1917-1995 (Doubleday, 1995)
Farewell to the Twentieth Century (Doubleday, 1996)
1967: The Last Good Year (Doubleday, 1997)
Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, 1999
Cats I Have Known and Loved (Doubleday, 2002)
Marching as to War (Doubleday, 2002)
The Joy of Writing (Doubleday, 2003)
Prisoners of the North (Doubleday, 2004)


My Country
The Great Depression
Flames Across the Border
The Invasion of Canada
Worth Repeating

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "Journalism" "Transportation" "War" "Interview"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay, 1897-1899