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.