Yukon Nuggets

2008 Yukon Nuggets

A new biography of Pierre Berton


On October 14 th, 2008 in Ottawa, a Carleton University historian is releasing his new book called" Pierre Berton, a Biography." The book is a massive 681 pages and is the subject of this Yukon Nugget.

Ontario author, Brian McKillop, thinks Pierre Berton is a Canadian icon and he set about to prove it in this sweeping biography. During his research, McKillop discovered a family secret that even Pierre didn’t know. Pierre’s father Frank, who trekked to the Klondike in 1898, grew up in New Brunswick. However, Pierre was unaware, until just months before he died in 2004, that his father had lived much of his young life in an orphanage.

In 1878, Pierre’s grandmother, then a widow, had two boys and was unable to raise them both. So she kept five-year-old Jack and left Frank at Wiggins Male Orphan Institution, where he lived for 10 years. He then graduated from the University of New Brunswick and headed off to the Klondike to seek his fortune and start a family in Dawson City.

Pierre Berton was born in Whitehorse on July 12, 1920 and raised in Dawson City. His mother, Laura Beatrice Berton (née Thomson) was a school teacher in Dawson City, where she had met Frank Berton.

The book details Pierre’s rise to fame, from his days as a young newspaper reporter in Vancouver to national prominence with Maclean's magazine, TV shows, including Front Page Challenge, and best-selling books.

Behind the scenes, there is a more notorious story. For many years, says the author, Berton led a racy private life and sought to keep the details private.

During the Second World War, while a soldier serving in Britain, his girlfriend, named Frances, announced she was pregnant by him. The two went their separate ways and Mr. Berton, according to McKillop, never made inquiries to determine whether he had a son or daughter in England.

In the 1960s in Toronto, Berton was known to his close friends as an habitual skirt-chaser and a member of the Sordsmen's Club, an organization of Toronto men dedicated to good food, lively discussion, beautiful women and more. A young Adrienne Clarkson, later to become Governor General, was one of the women invited to dine and cavort with the Sordsmen.

Author McKillop calls Berton Canada's first modern celebrity and its most iconic figure because he spent a lifetime researching Canada's history and writing renowned books, including The National Dream, The Last Spike, Klondike, and The Comfortable Pew.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.