Pierre Berton tribute

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Pierre Berton, who was born in Whitehorse on July 12, 1920, established himself as one of the country's pre-eminent storytellers in a journalism career that spanned five decades (with many of those years hosting CBC public affairs and talk shows).

He was known for imbuing his interviews with range and intellectual depth but also for having an earnestly engaging manner. His passion for Canadian history, geography and culture was evident in his writing career. He published 50 books in his lifetime, many of which were about Canada's early frontier and military history, and were frequently lauded for their excellent research and accessibility.

Berton died on November 30, 2004 at the age of 84. To mark the 10 years since his passing, we'd like to highlight 10 fascinating facts about the man, the myth, the legend.

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1. The history loving Berton worked in mining camps in the Klondike when not attending classes at the University of British of Columbia. His father also worked the mines there.

2. At 21, Berton, working for the Vancouver News-Herald, became the youngest city editor at any Canadian daily newspaper, as older staff members had been called up to serve in World War II.

3. Berton narrated the 1957 Canadian documentary film City of Gold, which chronicled Dawson City's Gold Rush past. The documentary was huge successful, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and was also nominated for an Oscar.

4. One of Canada's most prolific writers, he was honoured with more than 30 literary awards during his career, including the Governor General's Award and the Stephen Leacock Medal of Humour.

5. Berton later settled in Kleinburg, Ont. In 1967, he helped establish the town's annual Binder Twine Festival, which hearkens back to the days when farmhands would come into town to purchase twine for binding together sheaves of wheat.

6. In 1971, Berton interviewed martial arts mega star Bruce Lee just as he was on the cusp of becoming an international sensation. His conversation with Lee, who suddenly died at age 32 in 1973, was the only televised English-language interview the Enter the Dragon legend ever did.

7. Berton and his wife Janet married in 1946 and had eight children: Penny, Pamela, Patsy, Peter, Paul, Peggy Ann, Perri and Eric Basciano, a foster son who joined them at age 16.

8. Berton used to joke that he had 200,000 words in him a year, spread across his journalistic work and his books. But the man could certainly hunker down and write, once producing 60,000 words in five days for a memoir.

9. Berton was a big fan of marijuana, having smoked it regularly since the 1960s. In one memorable episode of Rick Mercer's Monday Report, he offered Canada a masterclass in how to properly roll a joint.

10. He was once fired by Maclean's magazine in 1963 after writing a column with the headline "Let's Stop Hoaxing The Kinds About Sex." The article, in which Berton discussed his own views that society should stop pretending that young people weren't sexually active, outraged church groups and led to cancelled subscriptions and pulled advertisements.

We'd also like to highlight some more great vintage Berton videos:

In this absolutely amazing archival clip from 1958, Berton speaks to Russian literary legend Vladimir Nabokov and American literary critic Lionel Trilling about Nabokov's hugely controversial novel Lolita.


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Also from 1958: In this segment, novelists Rona Jaffe and Robertson Davies have a fascinating discussion with Berton about the sexual attitudes and social norms of the times.


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In this 2001 clip, Berton appears on CBC-TV's Hot Type to discuss his book Marching As to War.


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