Berton, Pierre (Francis de Marigny) 1920–2004

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BERTON, Pierre (Francis de Marigny) 1920–2004 (Lisa Kroniuk)

PERSONAL: Born July 12, 1920, in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada; died November 30, 2004, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; son of Francis George (a mining recorder) and Laura (Thompson) Berton; mar-ried Janet Walker, 1946; children: Penny, Pamela, Patricia, Peter, Paul, Peggy Anne, Perri, Eric. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1941.

CAREER: Vancouver News Herald, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, city editor, 1941–42; Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, feature writer, 1946–47; Maclean's magazine, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1947–58, began as assistant editor, became managing editor; Toronto Star, Toronto, associate editor and author of daily column "By Pierre Berton," 1958–62; Maclean's magazine, managing and contributing editor, 1963–64; editor-in-chief, Canadian Centennial Library, beginning 1963. Host of weekly television programs Heritage Theatre, 1947–58, The Pierre Berton Show, 1962–73, My Country, Under Attack, and The Great Debate; television commentator and panelist, Front Page Challenge, beginning 1957, and Close-Up. Yukon College, chancellor, 1988–93. Member of board of directors, McClelland & Stewart Ltd.; past chair, Heritage Canada; former chair, Canadian Civil Liberties Union; editorial director, Natural Science of Canada Ltd. Military service: Canadian Army, 1942–45; became captain/instructor at Royal Military College in Kingston.

MEMBER: Association of Canadian Radio and Television Artists, Writers' Union of Canada, American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, Authors League of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Governor General's Awards for creative nonfiction, 1956, for The Mysterious North, 1958, for The Klondike Fever, and 1971, for The Last Spike, 1881–1885; J. B. McAree Award for columnist of the year, 1959; Film of the Year Award in Canada and Grand Prix at Cannes for City of Gold, 1959; National Newspaper Awards for feature writing and staff corresponding, 1960; Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor, 1960, for Just Add Water and Stir; Nellie Award, Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), for integrity in broadcasting, 1972; Officer of Order of Canada, 1975; Nellie Award, ACTRA, for public affairs radio broadcasting, 1978; Canadian Author's Association Literary Award for nonfiction, 1981, for The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813; Canadian Booksellers' Award and Ohassto Perspective Award, both 1982; Companion of Order of Canada, 1986; Pierre Berton Award, National Historical Society of Canada, 1994; Biomedical Science Ambassador's Award, 1997; John Drainie Award for significant contribution to television broadcasting in Canada, 1999; inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame; inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame, 2003; recipient of numerous honorary degrees.


The Royal Family, Knopf (New York, NY), 1954.

The Golden Trail: The Story of the Klondike Rush, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1955, published as Stampede for Gold, Knopf (New York, NY), 1955.

The Mysterious North, Knopf (New York, NY), 1956.

The Klondike Fever, Knopf (New York, NY), 1958, revised edition published as Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896–1899, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972.

Just Add Water and Stir (also see below), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1959.

Adventures of a Columnist (also see below), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1960.

(With Henri Rossier) The New City: A Prejudicial View of Toronto, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1961.

The Secret World of Og (juvenile), illustrated by daughter Patsy Berton, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1961, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962, published with new illustrations by Patsy Berton, 1974, special edition reissued by Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

Fast, Fast, Fast Relief (also see below), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1962.

The Big Sell (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1963.

The Comfortable Pew, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1965.

My War with the Twentieth Century, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965.

Remember Yesterday, Canadian Centennial Library (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1966.

(With wife, Janet Berton) The Centennial Food Guide, Canadian Centennial Library (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1966, published as Pierre and Janet Berton's Canadian Food Guide, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

The Cool, Crazy, Committed World of the Sixties, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1966, enlarged version published as Voices from the Sixties, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.

(Editor) Historic Headlines: A Century of Canadian News Dramas, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1967.

The Smug Minority, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1968, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969.

Pierre Berton Omnibus (boxed set; contains Just Add Water and Stir, Adventures of a Columnist, Fast, Fast, Fast Relief, and The Big Sell), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.

The Great Railway, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Volume I: The National Dream: 1871–1881, 1970, Volume II: The Last Spike: 1881–1885, 1971, abridged edition published as The Impossible Railway: The Building of the Canadian Pacific, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972, published as The National Dream/The Last Spike, with color photographs from the Canadian Broad-casting Corporation (CBC) production, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974, reissued in paperback, Longitude, 2002.

Drifting Home, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

Hollywood's Canada: The Americanization of the National Image, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1975.

My Country: The Remarkable Past (also see below), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.

The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977, Norton (New York, NY), 1978.

The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

The Wild Frontier (also see below), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978.

Flames across the Border: The Canadian-American Tragedy, 1813–1814, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Why We Act Like Canadians: A Personal Exploration of Our National Character, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982, Penguin (New York, NY), 1987.

The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay, 1897–1899, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.

The Promised Land: Settling the West, 1896–1914, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

(Under pseudonym Lisa Kroniuk) Masquerade: 15 Variations on a Theme of Sexual Fantasy, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Vimy, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

Starting Out, 1920–1947, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.

The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.

The Great Depression, 1929–1939, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Niagara: A History of the Falls, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

A Picture Book of Niagara Falls, Firefly Books (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1993.

Winter, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

The Remarkable Past: Tales from My Country and The Wild Frontier, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Attack on Montreal, illustrated by Paul McCusker, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

My Times: Living with History, 1947–1995, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Farewell to the Twentieth Century, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Men in the Sheepskin Coats, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

The Great Lakes, Stoddard (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Seven, The Last Good Year, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.

Seacoasts, photographs by Andre Gallant, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Pierre Berton's Canada: The Land and the People, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Welcome to the Twenty-First Century: More Absurdities of Our Time, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 1999.

Marching as to War: Canada's Turbulent Years 1899–1953, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Cats I Have Known and Loved, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

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

Prisoners of the North, Carrol & Graf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

Also author of screenplay and narrator for the National Film Board of Canada's documentary City of Gold, an adaptation of his book The Klondike Fever, 1959. Author of book for musical Paradise Hill, first performed in 1967. Contributor of numerous articles to magazines.

ADAPTATIONS: The National Dream: 1871–1881 and The Last Spike: 1881–1885 were adapted into an eight-part television miniseries produced by the CBC in 1974; The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama was adapted for CBC; The Secret World of Og was animated by Hanna-Barbera, 1983.

SIDELIGHTS: Pierre Berton was a prolific and popular chronicler of Canada's history. Born in the Yukon, he gained a love of adventure from his father and a literary bent from his mother, an aspiring journalist. Berton himself got his start writing for newspapers in Vancouver and went on to become one of the country's best-known—and frequently controversial—journalists, both in print and broadcast media. His books have covered topics ranging from the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the gold rush, to his own personal memoirs, and collections of his newspaper columns. Many of his celebrations of Canadian heritage have become classics of their genre.

Berton's first book, The Royal Family, was published in 1954. Lively sales encouraged him to keep up his efforts, and by the time he published his fourth book, The Klondike Fever, in 1958, his reputation was firmly established, bolstered by his work in magazines, on radio and in television. In The Klondike Fever, Berton used the lively, readable style that became his trademark to give an account of the gold rush that took place in Canada between 1896 and 1899. The highly-acclaimed volume was adapted into an award-winning film as well.

One of Berton's most ambitious works was The Great Railway, a two-volume work covering the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (later abridged as The Impossible Railway: The Building of the Canadian Pacific). Commenting on the first volume, The National Dream: 1871–1881, a Saturday Night contributor wrote that it "is a tough, crisp, intelligent and affectionate recital of the events in the years 1871–1881 that led to the founding of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company…. Its story is nothing less than the great and shapely drama of How We Won the West and Saved Canada From a Fate Worse than Death. That fate, of course, was absorption by the United States of America…. It's a bloody good book." The reviewer also praised Berton's efforts after the publication of the second volume, The Last Spike: 1881–1885, calling the work "an extraordinary and … a terrifically enviable achievement." A New York Times Book Review writer also commended The Impossible Railway, calling it "a marvelous story in its own right, something of a cliff-hanger," noting that "it anticipates, as Berton readily grasps without belaboring the point, the major problem that bedevils Canada even now: American domination…. It is [Berton's] considerable triumph that, working from primary sources, unpublished diaries, and letters as well as public documents, he has rendered a horrendously complex story so readable."

In 1977, Berton turned his attention to a strange episode in Canadian history: the birth and public life of the Dionne quintuplets, five identical sisters born to a poor French-Canadian family during the Depression. Media attention led to the quintuplets being taken from their parents and raised as wards of the Ontario government, in a special compound built for them and staffed by professional nurses. The publicity surrounding them led to exploitation of the girls for commercial purposes, often at the expense of their happiness and well-being. Crowds flocked to see them at their dwelling-place, and at one time they were ranked a bigger tourist attraction than Niagara Falls. A reviewer for the New York Review of Books called The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama "a dismal but inescapably absorbing story, with the political, social, and psychological implications firmly examined." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times described the Dionne story as "hard to believe, let alone take seriously" but noted that Berton recounts it with "verve, amusement, an eye for the telling detail and an unobtrusive sense of irony." The Dionne Years was later adapted for television broadcast on CBC.

In 1977, Berton published the first of his two-volume history of the War of 1812. A reviewer for the Detroit News called The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813 "history written in the most compelling way, with insight, clean narration and an understanding of the tiny incidents that make up large events." A contributor to the New York Times Book Review said that Berton "writes popular history as it should more often be written, exciting but carefully documented, in a clear, somewhat classical style." The second volume, Flames across the Border: The Canadian-American Tragedy, 1813–1814, was considered "vividly written and immensely readable" by the reviewer for Book World, who found the two-volume work as a whole to be "drum-and-trumpet history at its best, beautifully researched."

In 1984, Berton completed a series of books about the Western frontier with The Promised Land: Settling the West, 1896–1914, about the settlement of the Canadian prairie—which saw the immigration of nearly one million people to the region. A reviewer for the Toronto Globe and Mail noted Berton's journalistic style, pointing as well to the author's "commitment to his subject and his obvious love of his country." Berton turned next to Canada's role in World War I. Vimy, his book about the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge in 1917, was generally well received. His histories have at times been faulted by those in the academic community for their breezy, popular style, but this characteristic is seen by others as Berton's greatest gift: the ability to make history riveting. Berton himself is quoted in Dictionary of Literary Biography as saying, "History is history. Good history is good history…. I don't make any distinctions. If it's popular, it's something large numbers of people read. I would say my history is also scholarly. It's narrative history which is easier to read than expository history…. History books should read as much like novels as possible."

Berton received widespread critical praise for his sprawling 1988 work, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909. He approached his subject in three stages: the search for a northwest passage to the Pacific, the Franklin expedition and subsequent search for the Franklin party, and the race for the North Pole. As he detailed the people and events involved in trying to reach to the North Pole, he evoked a "sense of character" that is "profound," according to Lloyd Rose in the Voice Literary Supplement. T. H. Watkins, a reviewer for Washington Post Book World, also applauded the book, saying that the material was "presented with lucidity, wit, and compassion in a work of major importance in the history of North American exploration." Chauncey Loomis, a contributor to London Review of Books, found that "The story has the scope, the heroism, the grandeur of a saga, and it also has the absurdity that is latent in any saga looked at with a cool eye. Berton sees both sides of it—and that is one of the many strengths of his book."

The prolific author produced histories of Niagara Falls, the Great Depression, and, in Marching as to War: Canada's Turbulent Years 1899–1953, a chronicle of Canada's involvement in the wars of the twentieth century. That book, according to Anthony Wilson-Smith, a writer for Maclean's, came into the author's mind as he was recovering from serious heart trouble. He poses questions about the moral correctness of taking part in international wars and risking Canadian lives to save foreign interests. Some reviewers criticized the book as containing inaccuracies, but Tom Hawthorn, reviewing it in the Vancouver Sun, recommended it, despite the fact that the volume covered familiar material, for "in Berton's hands even the familiar remains a compelling read. The book would make a fine primer, especially for high-school students who find textbook history to be unimaginably boring."

Berton's own colorful life provided ample material for his memoirs, including the volume titled My Times: Living with History, 1947–1995. Detailing his encounters with the famous and powerful people he frequently encountered after rising to success in Toronto, Berton is at times somewhat "tedious," according to Anne Denoon, a critic for Books in Canada, yet she goes on to praise the author for his lively writing and "engaging" and "memorable" anecdotes. Allan Fotheringham, reviewing the memoir for Maclean's, stated that Berton "is one of the more interesting Canadians this country has produced," and that My Times produced ample evidence of this claim. "He is passionate, he is bumbling, he claims, he has extraordinary energy—and he doesn't fear anything. What he hates is Canadian complacency." Fotheringham continued, "His main gift is his enthusiasm—product of his small-town pioneer background—and his prodigious discipline."

Berton continued to draw on his own life for his 2003 offering, Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers, Disguised as a Literary Memoir. This book takes a look inside the writing life, including examples of unedited and edited prose from various points in Berton's career and from the work of other writers, illustrating how voice develops over time.

On November 30, 2004, Berton passed away at the age of eighty-four. For his literary contributions to recording Canada's history, the author earned many awards and honors in his lifetime, including one which outlives him. The National Historical Society of Canada established the Pierre Berton Award in 1994, recognizing outstanding chroniclers of Canadian history, with Berton its first recipient.



Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 68: Canadian Writers, 1920–1959, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.

Stewart, Sandy, Here's Looking at Us: A Personal History of Television in Canada. CBC Enterprises (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

Troyer, Warner, The Sound and the Fury: An Anecdotal History of Canadian Broadcasting. Wiley (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.


Alberta Report, January 7, 2002, p. 3.

Atlantic, November, 1988, p. 99.

Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), February 9, 1997, p. D7.

Best Sellers, December 15, 1972.

Booklist, December 1, 2004, George Cohen, review of Prisoners of the North, p. 627.

Books in Canada, November, 1995, Anne Denoon, review of My Times: Living with History, 1947–1995, pp. 29, 32.

Book World, April 4, 1982, review of Flames across the Border: The Canadian-American Tragedy, 1813–1814, p. 3.

Canadian Children's Literature, 1992, Anna Chiota, review of "Adventures in Canadian History" series, pp. 75-77; 1993, Robert Nicholas Berard, review of "Adventures in Canadian History" series, pp. 40-42, Eric Henderson, review of "Adventures in Canadian History" series, pp. 78-80; fall, 1996, Douglas Leighton, interview with Pierre Berton, pp. 43-49, Donald Swainson, "Pierre Berton and History for Young People," pp. 101-104.

Canadian Geographic, February-March, 1991, p. 87; January-February, 1993, p. 86; November-December, 1994, Betty Baird, review of Winter, p. 84.

Canadian Historical Review, September, 2003, reviews of Marching as to War: Canada's Turbulent Years, 1899–1953, p. 480.

Canadian Literature, spring, 1986, Lorna Irvine, "The Real Mr. Canada," pp. 68-79.

Detroit News, December 14, 1980, review of The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813.

Edmonton Sun, November 2, 1983; September 28, 1996, Jeff Craig, review of Nineteen Sixty-Seven: The Last Good Year.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 8, 1984; September 6, 1986; September 12, 1987; September 17, 1988; September 8, 1990.

Journal of American History, September, 1998, Elizabeth McKinsey, review of Niagara: A History of the Falls, p. 632.

Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'Etudes Canadiennes, winter, 1994–1995, pp. 5-14.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2004, review of Prisoners of the North, p. 1127.

Library Journal, September 1, 1972; September 15, 1996, Joseph L. Carlson, review of The Great Lakes, p. 85; February 1, 1997, Nicholas Burckel, review of Niagara, p. 93.

London Review of Books, December 21, 1989, Chauncey Loomis, review of The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909, pp. 22-23.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 30, 1982, p. 16; November 6, 1983, p. 4; October 27, 1985, p. 10.

Maclean's, September 10, 1990, Victor Sawyer, review of The Great Depression, 1929–1939, pp. 79-80, Peter Fotheringham, "Mom Could Have Helped the Sale," p. 84; October 12, 1992, Peter Kopvillem, review of Niagara, p. 82; July 1, 1994, p. 42; December 19, 1994, review of Winter, p. 56; September 4, 1995, Allan Fotheringham, "The Ego Who Walks Like a Man," p. 56; December 13, 1999, Anthony Wilson-Smith, "'I Love to Write, and I Would Do It If I Were Paid or Not,'" p. 84; July 17, 2000, Allan Fotheringham, "A Bash to Remember," p. 56; May 7, 2001, Allan Fotheringham, "Tall Teller from the Yukon," p. 68; September 10, 2001, Anthony Wilson-Smith, "Pierre Berton, Our King of Convergence," pp. 2, 32; October 21, 2002, Sharon Doyle Driedger, review of Cats I Have Known and Loved, p. 76.

Nation, May 31, 1971.

National Review, June 29, 1984, p. 53.

New Leader, January 23, 1989, Barry Gewen, review of The Arctic Grail, p. 17.

Newsweek, October 31, 1988, p. 73.

New York Review of Books, October 26, 1978, review of The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama.

New York Times, January 19, 1979, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Dionne Years.

New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1972; December 10, 1978; February 22, 1981, p. 18; December 15, 1985, p. 32; November 20, 1988, Roland Huntford, review of The Arctic Grail, pp. 1, 44; February 16, 1997, Thurston Clarke, review of Niagara, p. 8.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), December 28, 1997, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1985, p. 22; December 2, 1996, review of Niagara, p. 46.

Quill & Quire, July, 1996, Stephen Smith, review of Farewell to the Twentieth Century, p. 50.

Resource Links, October, 2002, Joanne de Groot, review of The Secret World of Og, p. 12.

Saturday Night, November, 1970; November, 1971; October, 1977; July-August 1995; October, 1996, Kenneth Whyte, review of My Times, p. 27.

Seattle Times (Seattle, WA), July 6, 2001, p. E2.

Toronto Star, October 15, 1983.

Vancouver Sun, October 30, 1983; September 15, 2001, Tom Hawthorn, review of Marching as to War.

Voice Literary Supplement, May, 1989, Lloyd Rose, review of The Arctic Grail, p. 15.

Washington Post, October 27, 1978.

Washington Post Book World, November 13, 1988, T. H. Watkins, review of The Arctic Grail, p. 5.


Aurora, (September 17, 2004), interview with Pierre Berton.

Canadian Materials Archive, (November, 1990), Melanie Fogel, interview with Pierre Berton.



Loyalist Gazette, spring, 2005, obituary of Pierre Berton.

Railway Age, January, 2005, obituary of Pierre Berton.

Time Canada, December 13, 2004, Allan Fotheringham, "He Made Canada—Gasp!—Interesting: Pierre Berton, 1920–2004.


CBC Arts, (December 1, 2004), "Author Pierre Berton Dies at 84."

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Berton, Pierre (Francis de Marigny) 1920–2004

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