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…
He’s written books on every Canadian subject you can imagine. Railways, churches, the west, the Arctic, and so much more. But it was the Yukon which made him a household name across Canada and around the world.
Pierre Berton was the son of a Klondike stampeder. Francis George Berton was trained as a civil engineer in St. John, New Brunswick. He, like a surprising number of men from eastern Canada, caught the goldbug early on, and headed to the Yukon via the Chilkoot Pass in 1898. Francis staked one claim which proved worthless, but he stayed in Dawson City for the next 34 years, working jobs both in the town and out in the gold fields. In 1912, he married Laura Berton, a school teacher who had come to Dawson in 1907.
Pierre Berton was born in Whitehorse in 1920. His first 12 years were spent in Dawson City, where the family lived in a small but pleasant little house across the street from Robert Service. Berton recalled living among the relics of that glorious age. Everything, it seemed, was rusty and old, yet he had no idea he was living in a ghost town of old saloons, and gambling halls and houses filled with the decaying riches of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The family moved to Victoria in 1932. Pierre attended Graigdorroch College here before enrolling in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He joined the student staff of the Ubyssey newspaper and became a member of the University’s radio society. It was here that his interest in journalism flourished. For three summer seasons, beginning in 1938, Pierre Berton returned to the Klondike to work as a labourer with the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation on Dominion Creek.
He joined the army in 1942 and contributed to military newspapers. He eventually worked for the Vancouver Sun and began writing radio scripts on the gold rush days. This work led to some serious research on the Klondike and resulted, in 1957, in his first major novel called, simply 'Klondike'. It was this book which catapulted him to national acclaim, and astounded both he and his publisher by selling ten thousand copies in the first three months after it was published.
With the publishing of 'Klondike', Pierre Berton began to realize this period was a large part of a much larger story. It led him to research and write about the epic Canadian story which began long before Canadian confederation in 1867, and has not ended yet. What might Pierre Berton have written about or done had he not been raised in the Klondike? It’s likely the Yukon story would be less well known and Dawson City might still be a decaying ghost town instead of a vital destination to many visitors from around the world.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.