sad but not completely unexpected
We laughed our asses off at his "how to roll a joint" segment on Monday Report last month (I still have the mpeg around here somewhere). Rest in peace Pierre.
Beloved author Pierre Berton dies at age 84 at Toronto hospital
Tue Nov 30,10:41 PM ET
TORONTO (CP) - Author and broadcaster Pierre Berton, "a great Canadian voice" whose numerous books on history and culture contributed to the nation's collective identity, has died at age 84.
Berton died Tuesday afternoon at Sunnybrook hospital.
"I think he was like the godfather of Canadian history," said his longtime friend, agent and manager Elsa Franklin. "People respect the fact that he fought for the country, in a sense, to make people aware of it. And he loved the country."
Franklin said Berton had an enlarged heart, congestive heart failure and diabetes, "so these things take their toll."
"He did what he could and he was still writing, but the last two weeks he just went downhill. And the heart just wasn't pumping."
Berton was in York Central Hospital until recently, where his wife Janet was also hospitalized for a broken hip. He was moved to Sunnybrook hospital Monday and died of heart failure Tuesday, surrounded by many family members - including his wife in a wheelchair, Franklin said.
While he was at York Central he said at one point "Well, I'll get my typewriter and I'll write some poetry," Franklin reported.
In a statement, Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, who was also a CBC colleague years ago, called Berton "the most remarkable writer of Canadian historical events in the last 50 years."
"So much of our nationhood and our collective identity as Canadians were created by him. His extraordinary origins in the Yukon, his adventurous life as a newspaper man and his ability to bring to life all of the events which shaped us as a country can be seen through his works: The National Dream, The Last Spike, Vimy and The Arctic Grail put into words what we are, for all time."
Prime Minister Paul Martin extended his sympathy to the family and said "his passing silences a great Canadian voice, but his work will live on to enrich the lives of Canadians for generations to come."
"His ability to chronicle the life and times of our great nation was without peer," Martin said in a statement. "His love of Canada, its people and its history, and his personal attachment to the North (were) vividly expressed in his numerous books and writings as a journalist."
Berton had a long and varied career, publishing 50 books, working as a newspaper columnist, Maclean's magazine editor and as a broadcast personality. In every role, his trademark humour and eccentric take on the world was evident - as was his trademark bow tie, bushy white sideburns and dramatic cloaks.
"His contribution was bloody enormous. He was the giant of the Canadian writing scene," said author Farley Mowat.
He said one of his fondest memories of Berton was of a frigid winter evening in the late 1950s, when Mowat was having "a very difficult time of it" and sat despondent in his Jeep outside Berton's home.
Mowat says Berton brought him inside and stayed up until dawn listening to his "sad stories." He believes he would have frozen to death had Berton not intervened.
"He was imitated by many. I don't think anybody surpassed him in doing what he did so well, which was to be a journalist with passion and integrity."
Betty Kennedy, his fellow panellist on the CBC show Front Page Challenge, said she and so many other people will miss Berton terribly.
"He had a great loyalty to friends, to causes, to things that had happened in his past," she told CBC. "I can remember at one point when he was at the height of his fame and he was dashing off to attend a Boy Scout jamboree. And I said 'A Boy Scout jamboree?' and he said 'yes, without the Boy Scouts I can tell you that I would have been a juvenile delinquent."'
George Anthony, who also worked with Berton on Front Page Challenge, said he was unique - one of a kind.
"I will remember Pierre Berton as great fun, a brilliant mind who didn't take himself seriously, and an incredible communicator. He was just a wonderful writer and totally accessible to every walk of life."
Author Alice Munro, at her B.C. home, called Berton "such an important writer in the days when there weren't any."
"He was also an enormously generous man."
She said he was very businesslike when he used to come to her family's bookstore to sign books, "but he was very unsparing of himself."
"He understood the book business very well - not just his own books, but other people's books. He wanted the whole business in Canada to prosper."
Writer Alistair MacLeod said Berton "made the history of Canada come alive."
"He emphasized the importance of our history as distinct from American history or British history or French history. ... And without having written down that record of life within this country, we would all be poorer," MacLeod said from Windsor, Ont.
MacLeod said Berton was instrumental in encouraging Canadian writing in all its forms.
"He made it possible for a lot of younger writers to believe that you could write in this country and that you could be successful at it, and that the voices from this country have something to say."
Not only was Berton compassionate and a prolific writer, but he also had a good sense of fun.
As recently as October, he appeared on the CBC satire show, Rick Mercer's Monday Report, offering tips on how to roll a marijuana joint, recommending his book The National Dream as an excellent "rolling surface" and warning about the perils of a loose joint. He said a less-than-firmly rolled spliff could leave unsightly toke burns on one's bow tie.
Berton also told the Toronto Star that he had been a recreational marijuana-user since the 1960s, saying he'd reached a stage in his life where he didn't "give a damn" what he said or what people thought.
Mercer recalled asking Berton to appear on his show after hearing rumours that the elderly Canadian icon liked to smoke pot.
"I just called him, and asked him if he would come on the show and teach Canada how to roll a joint. He immediately said 'Yes, come up to the house. I'd be happy to do so,"' Mercer said.
Mercer spent the day with Berton at his home in Kleinburg, Ont. The comedian called the time spent with Berton one of the highlights of his life.
Mark Starowicz, the CBC producer who created the epic documentary Canada: A People's History, as well as The Greatest Canadian series that ended Monday, said Berton was "the greatest nationalist of our generation."
"We are all the children of Pierre Berton," he said in an interview.
Starowicz, whose parents displayed Berton's complete works on the mantel over their fireplace, says Berton added life to a past many Canadians had previously dismissed as dusty and dull.
"He took history out of the hands of the academics and breathed life into it and gave it to the people."
Canada's National History Society established the Pierre Berton Award in 1994 for distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history.
"As one of the original board members tells me, it was probably the shortest and least debated discussion in the entire history of the society," said the current president and CEO Deborah Morrison.
"Literally within 1½ minutes, they had set up this award program, determined its cash value and the first recipient was Pierre Berton."
Morrison said he also agreed to be the group's patron, and "ever since then he's been very much devoted and actively involved in helping to grow this award."
The 10th award was handed out last Thursday to Jack Granatstein, and it was the first time Berton missed an award ceremony.
"Jack Granatstein said in his remarks that our Canadian history was too valuable and too storied to leave to Pierre Berton alone," Morrison said from Winnipeg.
"Here we are, a week later, facing the challenge of making sure that in a Canadian world of history without Pierre Berton that all of the writers that he helped nurture are going to make sure that those stories continue to grow."
One of Berton's final public appearances was in October, when he attended the opening of a new $12.6 million resource library named in his honour in Vaughan, Ont.
Franklin said funeral arrangements are not confirmed but she expects there will be a private wake at the family home in Kleinburg, Ont., followed by a "big public wake."
Berton "lived a long and happy life and he died peacefully with his wife and family at his side," said his son Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of the London Free Press.
"He made a difference and I think he knew he made a difference."
Comments on the death Tuesday of author Pierre Berton:
"His love of Canada, its people and its history, and his personal attachment to the North (were) vividly expressed in his numerous books and writings as a journalist. His passing silences a great Canadian voice, but his work will live on to enrich the lives of Canadians for generations to come." - Prime Minister Paul Martin.
"Pierre Berton was the most remarkable writer of Canadian historical events in the last 50 years. So much of our nationhood and our collective identity as Canadians were created by him." - Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson.
"(He was) such an important writer in the days when there weren't any. He was also an enormously generous man." - Author Alice Munro.
"He emphasized the importance of our history as distinct from American history or British history or French history. ... And without having written down that record of life within this country, we would all be poorer." - Writer Alistair MacLeod.
"I just called him and asked him if he would come on the show and teach Canada how to roll a joint. He immediately said 'Yes, come up to the house. I'd be happy to do so.' " - Rick Mercer, recalling his invitation to Berton to appear on CBC-TV's Monday Report in October.
"He was imitated by many. I don't think anybody surpassed him in doing what he did so well, which was to be a journalist with passion and integrity." - Author Farley Mowat.
"He made a difference, and I think he knew he made a difference." - Berton's son Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of the London Free Press.
"He was the greatest nationalist of our generation. We are all the children of Pierre Berton." - CBC producer Mark Starowicz, who created the documentary Canada: A People's History.
"He was such a nice guy, a good sense of humour, proud, and he hated what he called anti-Canadianism, people who put Canadians down and people who weren't proud of their country, and I loved him for that." - Author and Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig, speaking to CBC.
"He was certainly one of the most prodigious workers. I know that June (Callwood) made some reference to him not being able to not write, and I think that's quite true. He had a good sense of humour too, and he didn't even mind if the joke was on himself." - Betty Kennedy, former panellist with Berton on CBC-TV's quiz show Front Page Challenge, told CBC.
"No matter how much or how little education you've had, you can get hooked on a Pierre Berton book by page 3 and not have to worry that you won't be able to finish it. I think he was unique. He was one of a kind." - George Anthony, who worked with Berton on Front Page Challenge.
"As one of the original board members tells me, it was probably the shortest and least debated discussion in the entire history of the society. Literally within 1½ minutes, they had set up this award program, determined its cash value and the first recipient was Pierre Berton." - Deborah Morrison, president and CEO of Canada's National History Society, of the group's decision to established the Pierre Berton Award in 1994 for distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history.