David Helwig

April 5, 1938 – October 16, 2018

David Helwig on beach with Star, 2013

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Obituaries and memorials

Former PEI poet laureate David Helwig dies

Sally Cole, Charlottetown Guardian, October 17, 2018

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Former P.E.I. poet laureate David Helwig is being remembered as a “brilliant man” who made a difference.

The author, editor and member of the Order of Canada died peacefully, surrounded by family, at King’s County Memorial Hospital in Montague this past Tuesday.

He was 80 years old.

P.E.I. author Hugh MacDonald, describes him as a “tremendous friend.”

“David was a wonderful gift for me. He was also a wonderful gift to P.E.I. He was a devoted supporter of the arts in every possible way.”

Whether he was serving on the board of the P.E.I. Symphony Orchestra or directing various literary exercises, in his stint as poet laureate, he made “outstanding contributions” wherever he went -- For example, Helwig, along with MacDonald and the late Joe Sherman met regularly at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market.

Their discussions about writing and poetry inspired them to start “Saturday Morning Chapbooks” -- a series of short poetry collections to help young writers on P.E.I. get published.

“We ended up doing three series,” says MacDonald.

He is survived by his wife Judy Gaudet, his daughters Maggie Helwig (Ken Simons) and Kate Helwig (Claude Royer) and their mother, Nancy Helwig, grandchildren Simone Helwig and Émile and Pascal Royer, and step-daughters Mary Gaudet (Lwam Ghebrehariat), Caitlin Gaudet (Dylan Trotter), and Christina Gaudet (Mark White). A reception will be held on Friday Oct. 19, 6-9 p.m.at 55 Hollow Pine Rd. in Brudenell. All are welcome.

The funeral service will be held in Toronto at St Stephen-in-the-Fields Church on Nov. 3.

Helwig was born in Toronto, where he spent his early childhood years. After living in Kingston and Montreal, he moved to Belfast, P.E.I. in 1996, where he settled; becoming very involved in the arts community.

Maggie Helwig describes her father as an inspiration.

“He was a brilliant man, extraordinarily eloquent; the most intelligent person I’ve ever known; complex, concerned, funny and very impatient. He got bored waiting for traffic lights to change,” says Maggie, during a telephone interview.

Helwig saw things that needed to be done and reached out to others.

“He was committed to helping young writers. When he met someone and felt they should be published, he made that happen.”


David Helwig (1938-2018)

Department of English, Queen’s University, Kingston, October 19, 2018

It is with sadness that Queen’s English shares news of the passing of David Helwig, award-winning Canadian writer, recipient of the Order of Canada, and member of the English Department (full time 1962-74, part-time 1976-80). Helwig was a prolific author, publishing 17 volumes of poetry, 25 of fiction, and 4 of non-fiction. Founder of Quarry Press (and an editor for many years at Oberon), Helwig was instrumental in supporting the careers of a number of prominent Canadian writers. In “The Names of Things: A Memoir” (Porcupine Quill 2006) he wrote of his years at Queen’s :

“An age of poets and a place of poets: the senior faculty at Queen’s included two, Douglas LePan who had come to the university after a career in External Affairs, and George Whalley, the department head who hired me. Malcolm Ross, who had moved to Dalhousie before I arrived, was one of the earliest serious editors and critics of Canadian writing. In the next few years the poets of my generation and the next began to turn up, Tom Marshall, Michael Ondaatje, Stuart McKinnon, Douglas Barbour, Gail Fox, Joan Finnigan. Bronwen Wallace and Carolyn Smart appeared, and began to publish a few years later on, Steven Heighton later still.”

In 2006 he received the Matt Cohen Award by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, in recognition of a distinguished lifetime contribution to Canadian literature.


For David Helwig

By Hugh MacDonald, in The Buzz, October 31, 2018

David Helwig died October 16 at King’s County Memorial Hospital in Montague surrounded by family, close friends, and his dog, Star. David spent the final chapter of his brilliant and productive life happily here on Prince Edward Island.

In April 1996 he left behind a huge legacy of literary and other artistic accomplishments in his native Ontario and moved to a rambling former doctor’s house in Eldon, PEI across from Cooper’s Red & White Food Store and the Belfast Post Office, and a couple of minutes away from the Belfast Highland Green’s golf course. David was able to carry out many repairs and updates and the house quickly became a warm and welcoming home for him and his partner Judy Gaudet.

Sandra and I met David at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market and began a more than twenty-year friendship that brought him and Judy, Sandra and I, Joseph and Ann Sherman, Deirdre Kessler and several other local writers and friends together on Saturday Mornings for wonderful lunches and coffee and for lively, productive and exciting conversations about culture and art, exchanges and ideas and much needed artistic encouragement and fellowship.

David brought with him a kind of uplifting aura, a fresh, guiding light as we were exposed to the astonishing power and perfection of his written work, the resonance and conviction of his spoken words. His presence seemed to “up” the games of everyone around him. A few acquaintances began to refer to David, Joe and me as the Three Bearded Chaps, a somewhat prophetic designation as, following a conversation about how there were several, excellent women poets locally who were not getting published, we decided to form a small publishing enterprise we named Saturday Morning Chapbooks. David took the lead, supplied most of the financing and editing as we approached our first batch of writers. I arranged ISBN’s etc. and we produced (David’s idea) a limited, signed artistic edition which sold out at cost and we broke even. We repeated the process four times, adding three deserving males to the final series. These books were legitimate publications complete with publication data and ISBNs and listed in the National Library of Canada. It was a thrill for all of us to open new doors for these talented writers.

The idea for a Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate arose at market discussions. The late Joe Sherman successfully carried the torch on this one. This Poet Laureate program has helped elevate the literary arts on the Island year after year since its inception. Our friend, Deirdre Kessler, is our current Poet Laureate, the sixth.

David wrote more than fifty books, many while living here on PEI. Much poetry and two of his novels: Close to the Fire, 1999, and Saltsea, 2006, are set on PEI. He loved living here. He and Judy tended beautiful flower and vegetable gardens at home in Eldon. David was an excellent cook and baker of sweet, crusty bread. He, Judy and Star walked the woods and beaches many kilometres around home.

He was a wonderful singer, a great teacher, a playwright, a literary manager for CBC TV Drama, Radio Drama, founder and Long-time editor of Best Canadian Stories, a Buzz essayist for 8 years, an artist of vibrant landscapes, a photographer, a brilliant writer and mentor to many, a spell-binding reader, proud father and grandfather, Member of the Order of Canada, Poet Laureate of Prince Edward Island, lover of visual art and patron of artists and musicians, my golf partner of a dozen years, a friend to all he knew and to PEI.

—Hugh MacDonald is a former Poet Laureate of PEI and a friend of David Helwig.


David Helwig — Singular Voice, Unassuming Craftsman

by Ingrid Ruthig, November 5, 2018

During his six-decade career, David Helwig built a following of readers who, having discovered his work, continue to admire it. On September 25, 2018, friends, family, and fellow writers gathered for “An Evening with David Helwig” in the Carriage House, situated on the waterfront property of historic Beaconsfield House in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The audience also included students and newcomers to his writing, and before long, every seat in the room was occupied.

I was invited to join the celebration, alongside twenty other Island writers who would read from his various books of fiction and poetry. After Deirdre Kessler, current Poet Laureate of PEI, welcomed everyone, I read part of my introduction from the new book, David Helwig: Essays on His Works, launched at the event. I touched on David’s various achievements, how this member of the Order of Canada and former Poet Laureate of PEI had, over many decades, written and published widely, won awards, relocated from Kingston to Montreal to the Island, and helped so many younger writers see their own work into print. Though none of this came as any surprise to those listening, they were no less moved by hearing it said aloud. And no less inclined to murmur appreciation or nod in agreement, especially when I read this passage from his novella, Duet: “The sun was shining in the back window and making a pattern on the set of kitchen chairs, shapes of light falling on the red paint. Beautiful, you said, and then wondered how a thing got to be beautiful.”

Over the course of the evening colleagues and family members in turn presented selections from David’s novels and poetry collections. As if mesmerized, no one noticed nine o’clock come and go. Finally, David himself, his frame now frail and leaning on a cane, came to the front of the room. We waited and watched. Someone arranged a chair for him, another adjusted the microphone, checked that he was comfortably situated. You could have heard that proverbial pin drop—this man, although physically diminished, still held a room rapt with his resonant voice and his words. We listened to the poignant poem “A Letter” from the selected collection Sudden and Absolute Stranger:

And somewhere, a man, serious, like you
unable quite to stop himself from caring
to act well, aware of age, reminded
that his looks are going, stands
thinking about the future and how
in a hundred years others may look back toward his lost life.

Without doubt, David comprehended the weight of the moment, his last on stage. And though part of me later regretted not having recorded his reading on my phone, I also realized it would only have reduced it to social media fodder, by rendering it a spectacle rather than the intimate, shared moment it actually was. Besides, David never courted the spotlight. And I admired him for that too.

In his memoir The Names of Things, he wrote, “I was seventeen years old, and I had invented a man that I would set out to be ... I had given myself the gift of a new ideal of life, one still not very common in Canada, the life of a writer.” With nearly fifty books to his name, and half that again as editor, along with numerous other publishing credits in journalism, radio, and television, David Helwig lived that life, an unassuming craftsman who simply goes about the business of writing—diligent, dedicated, building a body of work without fanfare. His singular voice will be missed. Nevertheless, his literary legacy remains, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. (I hope the book of essays goes some way toward ensuring it won’t be.)

When David had finished reading, his voice—its tones and the words he’d spoken—faded into the silence of the room. In that brief pause, he rose only a little unsteadily from his chair. The audience began to clap, then rose from their chairs too. The applause went on and on, and for a moment David didn’t move. He appeared surprised, even a bit puzzled by this heartfelt show of appreciation and affection. Then he straightened and stood a little taller, taking it all in.