is one of Canada's best known personalities and arguably Canada's
best-known living writer. He has also been an important television
presence since the earliest days of Canadian television. For more
than 30 years, he was rarely absent from the nation's television
screens and by the 1970s was correctly described as "clearly Canada's
best-known and most respected TV public affairs personality" by
Warner Troyer in The Sound and the Fury: An Anecdotal History
of Canadian Broadcasting. He was also one of most highly paid.
During his career as a columnist and commentator, he has been a
tireless defender of public broadcasting and the importance of Canadian
content. In all of his many public roles, he has been a prodigious
popularizer of the Canadian experience. He may be remembered most
for his many books, mostly popular histories, but he has long had
an arresting television presence.
TV appearance was probably in 1952, as a panellist on Court of
Opinion, soon after he arrived in Toronto from Vancouver, where
he got his start as a student newspaper editor (The Ubyssey)
and daily newspaper writer. Always well informed and opinionated,
he provided a strong journalistic thrust to various CBC public affairs
programs. In 1957, he became the host of the interview show Close-Up
and joined the panel of Front Page Challenge, a long-running
program that featured "mystery guests." The guests were connected
with stories in the news and the task of the panel was to identify
them by asking questions and then to conduct a brief interview with
the guest. After a long run, the program was finally cancelled in
1995. In 1963, on the newly formed private network, CTV, he premiered
the Pierre Berton Show (also known as the Pierre Berton
Hour) another talk show, which ran until 1973.
to popular history led in 1974 to My Canada on a new, private
television service, Global. The program made use of his formidable
talents as a story teller to present Canadian history viewers. The
program had few props and relied on Berton's ability to hold an
audience with the story. Later, in 1986-87, he was host of Heritage
Theatre on CBC television, a series of dramatizations of true
Among his major
television triumphs was the 1974 CBC production, The National
Dream. Based on his books, The National Dream and The
Last Spike, the drama-documentary series consisted of eight
hour-long programs on the opening of the Canadian West and the building
of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Berton wrote the series outline
and served as on-air guide to the documentary and drama segments.
The series premiered at 9:00 P.M., Sunday, 3 March 1974 and had
3.6 million viewers, a very large audience in English Canada, where,
at that time, the average audience was 3.1 million.
Over his career,
Berton made a major contribution to Canadian television. Not surprisingly,
he has been an ardent champion of public broadcasting and the CBC.
Closely involved with Canadian Radio and Television League, he helped
found a successor organization, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting,
which has been a critical supporter of the CBC and Canadian production.
As a Canadian cultural nationalist, Berton has made a major contribution
to the development of a distinct Canadian approach to television.
J. Fletcher and Robert Everett
Photo courtesy of Pierre Burton
BERTON. Born in Yukon Territory, Canada, 1920. Married, Janet;
six children. Began career as reporter for the Vancouver Sun;
managing editor of Maclean's magazine, 1947; editor/columnist
for Toronto Star newspaper 1958-62; writer of documentaries
and plays for TV, film and radio, revue sketches and musical comedy
for theatre; author of 36 books. Member: Canadian New Hall of Fame.
Recipient: Companion of the Order of Canada, three Governor General
Awards for Creative Non-fiction for The Mysterious North, The Last
Spike and Klondike; 2 National Newspaper Awards; 2 ACTRA Awards
Front Page Challenge (weekly panelist)
1957-63 Close-Up (host)
1972-73 The Pierre Berton Show (host)
1974 The National Dream (writer/narrator) series in 8
1979 The Dionne Quintuplets (writer)
1984-87 Heritage Theatre (story editor/host)
1985 Spirit of Batoche
1988 The Secret of My Success (writer/interviewer)
Way for the One-Eyed Monster." Maclean's (Toronto), 1 June
"Everybody Boos the CBC." Maclean's (Toronto), 1 December
The Mysterious North. New York: Knopf, 1956. The Klondike
Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. New York:
Adventures of a Columnist. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart,
The Comfortable Pew. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965.
Les Biens-pensants or The Smug Minority. Montréal: Editions
de l'Homme, 1968.
The Last Spike. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971.
Drifting Home. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973.
Canadian Food Guide. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Toronto: McClelland
and Stewart, 1977.
My Times: Living with History. Toronto: Doubleday Canada,
Terry. "Front Page Challenged: Aging Panelists Were One Thing, Then
They Got Grumpy." Saturday Night (Toronto), July/August 1995.
star is Born: In His New Memoirs, Pierre Berton Describes How TV
Bought Him Fame and Fortune." Maclean's (Toronto), 11 September
Sandy. Here's Looking at Us: A Personal History of Television
in Canada. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1986.
Warner. The Sound and the Fury: An Anecdotal History of CAnadian
Broadcasting. Toronto: Wiley, 1980
also Canadian Programming in English; Front Page Challenge