North

Pierre Berton sculpture unveiled in Whitehorse

The Yukon-born historian, journalist and broadcaster 'put the Yukon on the map,' said Rolf Hougen, who commissioned the bronze bust.

Yukon-born writer and broadcaster honoured with bronze bust on Main Street

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis, left, and local entrepreneur Rolf Hougen unveil the sculpture at the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue on Tuesday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Pierre Berton, who always had an eye for a good story, now has a central viewpoint in his storied birthplace — Whitehorse.

A bronze bust of the late historian, writer and broadcaster was unveiled Tuesday on Main Street in the city's downtown. It was commissioned by local entrepreneur Rolf Hougen and his family.

"As far as Canada, and much of the English-speaking world, he just put the Yukon on the map," Hougen said at the unveiling ceremony.

A plaque below the bust describes Berton as a "brilliant storyteller; and his vivid writing style brings the past alive." 

Local sculptor Harreson Tanner spent about six months working on the bust, a project he called a "huge honour."

"The difficult thing is to look at about a thousand photographs, two dimensional photographs, and try to get a piece of every one," Tanner said.

One piece that could not be overlooked — Berton's signature bow tie.

Roots in the Klondike

Berton was born in Whitehorse in 1920. The following year, his family moved north to Dawson City where they lived until Berton was 12, then moved to B.C. 

Artist Harreson Tanner said sculpting a likeness of one of Canada's most recognizable faces was 'a huge honour, and nerve-racking.' (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The Berton family residence in Dawson is now home to the Berton House Writer's Retreat program.   ​

Berton often wrote about his own early years in the Klondike region, when some of the original 1898 stampeders (such as his father) still haunted the streets and saloons, and abandoned gold dredges served as playgrounds. He later penned a colourful history that helped promote the gold rush as a singular event in Canadian history (Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896–1899). You need never go far in Yukon to find a copy for sale.

Berton returned to Yukon in the 1970s with his family to raft down the Yukon River and explore his roots in the territory. A book about that trip, Drifting Home, was also a hit.

The Berton bust now joins two others already on Whitehorse's Main Street that commemorate writers with similarly strong Yukon connections — Jack London and Robert Service. 

Hougen commissioned all three sculptures, and said he's thinking about a couple more. He wouldn't say of whom.

With files from Mike Rudyk

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