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Pierre Berton Trivia

Link to Review - Just add Water and Stir by Pierre Berton
1960 Leacock Medal Winner

As one of Canada’s best known writers, journalists, historians, and media personalities, Pierre Berton had achieved the status of national icon long before his death on November 30, 2004, and the highlights of his life and career are consequently recorded in many publications and many formats online (see other reading below).
A comprehensive resource for those interested in the man and his literary example is the 2008 biography by historian A.B. McKillop, (Pierre Berton: A biography).  McKillop started work on the project while Berton was alive.   As noted by reviewers, the enterprise took some bravery given Berton’s status as a person who popularized Canadian history and challenged professional historians to be better communicators.

  • In addition to innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television editorials, Berton wrote a total of fifty published books. The following tidbits are relevant to the Leacock Medal winner, Just add Water and Stir.

  • The man who was christened Pierre Francis de Marigny Berton was born on 12 July 1920 in Whitehorse in the Yukon where his father had gone to try to make it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush.  By the time he was ready for university, his family had moved to British Columbia.  He attended UBC, and there at the energetic student newspaper, the Ubyssey, he cultivated his interest in journalism and writing. 
  • Berton was a senior editor at the student paper which he regarded as fundamental to his career.  The Ubyssey was also a training ground for two other early Leacock Medal winners, Eric Nicol and Earle Birney.  Given Nicol’s three medals, Berton’s win meant that more than a third of the Leacock awards had gone to Ubyssey alumni up to that point.

    Berton nominated his lifelong friend Nicol for membership in the Order of Canada, which was awarded in 2000.  Berton counted other Leacock medalists among his friends and was particularly close to W.O. Mitchell tearing up with great emotion when speaking at one of Mitchell's last public appearances.
  • Comparative Widths of two books
    After university, Berton worked as a reporter and editor on the Vancouver News-Herald, the Vancouver Sun, and Maclean's Magazine where he rose to Managing Editor before jumping to the Toronto Star where, from 1958 to 1962, he produced the popular, crusading, and lively columns that provided the raw material for Just add Water and Stir as well as three other collections published by McClelland and Stewart (M&S). 
  • Just add Water and Stir sold the most reaching a total of 26,000 over the next decade.  As a more lighthearted collection than the others, it perhaps had wider appeal and utility as a Christmas gift in late 1959.  It immediately hit the best-seller lists went into its sixth printing within a year selling enough to induce his publisher to start work on the follow-up collection, Adventures of a Columnist within months.
  • Although drawn from a Toronto newspaper, Just add Water and Stir proved comparatively popular in Western Canada.  Staff at M&S attributed it to the fact that Western Canadians had not had a chance to read Berton’s columns before.
  • He had a lot on his mind during the early 1960s, and while the Leacock Medal was a valued part of the vast assembly of awards and honours he would attract during his life, he was preoccupied with other career developments during the year that he received it.  Intertwined with the writing of the columns and the publishing of Just add Water and Stir, Berton was taking the first steps in his television and radio career, and he would devote himself full-time to this work from 1962 on when he began The Pierre Berton Show.
  • Berton was regarded as witty and persistently humorous as a person, but his writing, characterized by his best known works and his writing on Canadian history, rarely drifted into humour again.  One exception came, however, not long after he won the Leacock Medal.  This was a precocious children’s book, The Secret World of Og,which he initially wrote to entertain his own children.

  • Other reading

    InDepth: CBC Online accessed 31 March 2013

    Link to Review - Just add Water and Stir
    by Pierre Berton
    1960 Leacock Medal Winner