Pierre Berton, journalist, historian, media personality (b at Whitehorse, YT 12 July 1920; d at Toronto, Ont 30 Nov 2004). Berton was among Canada's best-known writers and was particularly well regarded as a serious popularizer of Canadian history. He worked on the Vancouver News-Herald (beginning in 1942), the Vancouver Sun (1945-47), Maclean's (beginning in 1947) and on the Toronto Star (1958-62). From the late 1950s to the early 90s, he was a staple of Canadian TV as host of his own shows or as a panelist. His first important book was Klondike (1958), a narrative of the Klondike gold rush of 1898 - an event in whose long shadow Berton had lived for years, being the son of a gold-seeker and having grown up in Dawson amid the debris of the stampede.
But for more than a decade following Klondike, Berton's name was represented with books drawn from his enterprising Star column and his interview programs and with such polemics as The Comfortable Pew (1965) and The Smug Minority (1968), which attacked the Anglican Church and the business-political axis, respectively. It was not until the 1970s that he attempted to pick up the serious thread of Klondike and resume work as a popular historian. His subject was the building of the CPR, as treated in The National Dream (1970) and The Last Spike the following year. The subject was well suited to Berton's strengths: patriotic verve, the marshalling of colourful detail and, above all, a driving narrative.
The Dionne Years (1977) carried him nearer social history and a smaller canvas. In turning to the War of 1812 in The Invasion of Canada (1980) and Flames Across the Border (1981) Berton again dealt with events large enough to contain his heroic vision of what the past should be, and the smell of gunpowder quickened his pace without leading to narrative excesses. Other historical works have included My Country (1976) and The Wild Frontier (1978), collected sketches of characters and events. Hollywood's Canada (1975) examines the way Hollywood films misrepresent Canada. Drifting Home (1973) is an unexpected slice of autobiography in the form of an account of a northern rafting trip.
Berton returned to the writing of popular history, with The Promised Land (1984), a history of the settling of the Canadian West, and his hugely successful Vimy (1986), an examination of the WWI battle in which the Canadian Corps took Vimy Ridge in April 1917. In Starting Out (1987), he picked up the autobiographical thread again with a memoir that ends in 1947. Winter (1994), while not overtly historical, continues one of Berton's overriding themes, that which makes us Canadian. In glorifying the season Berton is recognizing the strength of character that allows Canada as a nation to overcome its harshness. In 2004 he published his 50th book, Pioneers of the North, a collection of biographical sketches on 5 of Canada's northern explorers, enigmatic characters that he felt wrote themselves into the landscape of the North. Berton received 3 Governor General's Awards, the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, the Canadian Booksellers Award and numerous honorary degrees and was a companion of the Order of Canada.