Writers' trust to take over historic Berton House

The house in Dawson City where Canadian writer Pierre Berton grew up will be officially transferred to the Writers' Trust of Canada on Tuesday.

The house in Dawson City where Canadian writer Pierre Berton grew up will be officially transferred to the Writers' Trust of Canada on Tuesday.

Berton House, the house in Dawson City where Pierre Berton grew up, is now a writers' retreat. ((The Writers' Trust of Canada))

The writers' trust, a non-profit that promotes Canadian literature, will take over operating a retreat for writersthat has operated at the Yukon house since 1996.

Berton's parents bought the small clapboard house in Dawson City for $500 in 1920 and lived there for 12 years, before selling it for the same amount.

Frank Berton, a miningrecorder, was laid off after the Depression slowed the industry and the family moved south.

Their son Pierre Berton grew up to be a noted chronicler of Canadian history, writing Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, The Last Spike and 1967: The Last Good Year, among many books of Canadiana.

A journalist and television personality, Berton kept his connection to the North until his death in 2004 and donated money towards repurchase of the house.

The house and its writers-in-residence program have been run until now by a group of volunteers, led by Elsa Franklin, Berton's friend and producer.

"After Berton died they approached us toask about taking it over," said Don Oravec, executive director of the Writers' Trust of Canada. "The idea was to run the writers-in-residence program in a more structured way and ensure its long-term survival."

Franklin and the volunteers behind Berton House Writers'Retreat Society have chosen a group of four writers who will be able to use the house as a place to write in the coming year.

They'll be announced on Tuesday. And after the deed to the house is handed over to the writers' trust, it will take on the process of selecting and funding the writers-in-residence program, Oravec said.

Front entrance to Berton House. The Designer Guys did a makeover. ((The Writers' Trust of Canada))

That's expected to cost about $50,000 a year.Canada Council and an annual fund-raising dinner by the trust are expected to cover the cost.

The house, built in 1901 after the wane of theKlondike gold rush,is in good shape, having had a recent makeover by the Designer Guys.

It sits on a kind of writers' row in Dawson City, across the street from the log cabin where the poet Robert Service once lived and a block away from Jack London Centre, commemorating the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang.

George Ilsley will be the next writer to spend three months in the house in the retreat program. Writers are given airfare and a living stipend while at the house.

Among the writers who have worked there are Russell Smith, Bruce McDougall, George Fetherling and Audrey Thomas.