North

Berton never forgot his Yukon roots

Yukon's most famous son, Canadian author and broadcaster Pierre Berton, died Tuesday in a Toronto hospital. He was 84.

Yukon's most famous son, Canadian author and broadcaster Pierre Berton, died Tuesday in a Toronto hospital. He was 84.

Berton, who brought the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and other moments of Canadian history alive in books and television from the 1950s to the 70s, was one of Canada's most beloved literary figures.

The award-winning author wrote dozens of books on Canada, three of which won the Governor General's medal for non-fiction: The Mysterious North(1956); Klondike: The Life and Death of the Last Gold Rush(1958); and The Last Spike (1971).

Born in 1920 in Whitehorse and raised in Dawson City, Berton's family stayed in the Klondike for years after the Rush, and Pierre grew up in a virtual ghost town.

The family moved to Vancouver in the Depression, and Berton went to the University of British Columbia.

A journalist at heart, he went to UBC so he could write for the school newspaper. At 22 he became the city editor of the Vancouver News Herald, then moved to the Vancouver Sun, and then to Maclean's Magazine. At age 31 he became the magazine's managing editor.

He became a national television institution on Front Page Challenge, a member of the news story-guessing panel until its end.

Max Fraser, one of the founders of the Berton House writer's retreat in Dawson City, says Berton was the Yukon's best friend.

Fraser says Berton never forgot his roots.

"You know, we've got this Greatest Canadian thing going on. I think in a lot of ways he was the greatest Yukoner in terms of his writing and ongoing involvement with the Yukon and his promotion of the writer's retreat in Dawson City at Berton House," he says.

"It was just magnificent. He could have left the territory and never come back but he always came back and he always contributed to the Yukon."

Berton, who was also named the first chancellor of Yukon College, always had a fondness for the North.

"A northern character is different, different from a southern character, they're not as outgoing or as effusive or as ebullient, say, as a southerner. They don't wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they're also contained within themselves," he told CBC North radio last year.

"And they weren't as loudmouthed as southerners, if they had something to say they said it. But they said it much more quietlier (sic). With y'know, much more assurance."

Berton was named to the Order of Canada in 1986. In 1995, Berton wrote his autobiography My Times. He spent his final years at his home in Kleinburg, Ontario

(with notes from the Canadian Press)   

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