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Pierre Berton on Hollywood's version of Canada

More than any other writer, Pierre Berton brought Canadian history to life. Born in the Yukon in 1920, Berton was a journalist, broadcaster and panellist on the long-running CBC-TV program Front Page Challenge. His books on the remarkable people, places and events of the past helped create a national mythology and earned him a spot on the bookshelves and in the hearts of Canadians.

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Canada: a wilderness full of mountains, snow, forests and Mounties. Few Canadians would recognize it, but it's how Americans have long portrayed us in their movies. But without a film industry of our own to depict our mythology, Hollywood stepped into the void to tell us who we are, beginning in the 1920s. In this 1975 clip from CBC's Take 30, author Pierre Berton critiques a 1921 silent film while promoting his book Hollywood's Canada.

• Pierre Berton got his start in both broadcasting and newspaper writing at the same place: the University of British Columbia. He was editor of the campus newspaper The Ubyssey, and was also the campus correspondent for a Vancouver daily. UBC had no radio station of its own at the time, but as a member of the school's radio society, Berton hosted school-themed programs on local Vancouver stations.

• Berton began wearing his signature bow ties in the early 1950s. In his 1995 book My Times, he recalled commenting on the bow tie of Hal Straight, his former editor. Straight dashed into a haberdashery, bought one for Berton, and showed him how to tie it. "From that moment I was hooked on bow ties," Berton wrote. "What was good enough for Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman was good enough for me."

• Berton was an outspoken opponent of South Africa's policy of apartheid. In 1961, he compared apartheid South Africa with Nazi Germany and challenged Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to lead a Commonwealth revolt against apartheid.
• He also participated in anti-apartheid rallies, which prompted the RCMP to keep a file on him. They suspected him of communist sympathies.

• In 1984 Berton and fellow radio personality Charles Templeton developed a Canadian trivia game called Tour de Force. The game sold well and the pair made about $100,000.
• Canada's top history award is the Pierre Berton Award. It was established by the National History Society in 1994 and is awarded to people or organizations for "distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history."
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Oct. 6, 1975
Guest(s): Pierre Berton
Host: Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 12:08

Last updated: October 7, 2014

Page consulted on October 7, 2014

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