Robert Weaver, who co-founded and edited Canada’s great literary magazine The Tamarack Review, died on Jan. 26 in Toronto. He was 87. Friends and co-workers describe Weaver as genial, generous and loyal.
The Tamarack Review, published from 1956-1982, was edited by the late, great Robert Weaver.
Weaver, who wore glasses, smoked a pipe and kept a tobacco pouch in his tweed coat pocket, was born in Niagara Falls, Ont. and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Armed Forces during the Second World War. A University of Toronto graduate, he joined CBC radio in 1948.
In 1956, Weaver helped launch The Tamarack Review, which he edited until 1982. He is credited for initiating the careers of many great Canadian writers who have become household names, including Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro. The Tamarack Review was included in Masthead’s recent list of Canada’s 20 most influential magazines of all time, ranking 16th.
Writer and editor Robert Fulford says Weaver began reading Munro when no one knew of her. “Before her name was Munro, before she married, he was reading her.”
Weaver often went above and beyond the usual editorial tasks for his writers. “He worried a great deal about writers who weren’t getting as much attention or sales as he thought they should get and he did what he could to help them,” Fulford says.
He was also a great morale booster, Fulford says. “He’d want to be remembered as an editor who had the judgment to figure out what writers were valuable and he had the morality to stick with them year after year after year.”
John Robert Colombo, former managing editor of the Tamarack Review, says Weaver’s “Canadian qualities” made him special. “He believed that literature had a civilizing effect and played an important role, in part in the individual’s psyche and in the national life of the country.”
Colombo says Weaver traveled across Canada at a time when trans-Canada travel was much more difficult than it is today. Weaver would often invite writers at CBC bureaus in small cities to his hotel room “for a drink and [to] swap anecdotes.”
Fulford says these “parties” influenced writers and made them feel a part of the national community. “He gave these people a connection with the CBC and the larger literary world. It mattered a lot.”
Fraser Sutherland, author of The Monthly Epic: A History of Canadian Magazines, describes Weaver as a gatekeeper. Weaver’s multiple roles enabled him to be a “power broker,” allowing him to help establish reputations and to offer talented writers a place to be heard.
The “fairy godfather” of Canadian literature has no successors, Colombo says. “Writers, more than admired him, more than respected him, loved him.”