By Hugh MacDonald
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.