Archives and Special Collections
Harriet Irving Library
University of New Brunswick
March 1992



The literary tradition in Fredericton, and at the University of New Brunswick, is long and well established. It begins with Jonathan Odell, and moves on to Francis Sherman, Charles G.D. Roberts, and Bliss Carman. An important part of this tradition is The Fiddlehead magazine.

The Fiddlehead is a magazine that has had a long history. This in itself is noteworthy considering the short run of most literary periodicals.1 The fact, however, is that it is a venerable history which includes, not only the publishing of some of the best Eastern Canadian writers, but the encouragement of young writers through active and helpful criticism, and advice.

The Fiddlehead, founded in 1945, began as a mimeographed publication for members of the Bliss Carman Society, a writers' group. This society, founded by Dr. A.G. Bailey in 1940, despite its traditional sounding name, encouraged a progressive and forward approach to writing poetry. Originally the magazine was open only to members of the Bliss Carman Society, but soon expanded. Robert Gibbs writes:

Its editor was Donald Gammon. Its cover designed by Lucy Jarvis, Director of the Art Centre on campus. Among the founding members was Elizabeth Brewster. Fred Cogswell joined the society later that year. Robert Gibbs became a member in 1948. The poetry society continued to function into the early fifties, by which time most of the original members had either gone from Fredericton or stopped writing verse. The magazine continued, but in a new form, a small-format printed magazine open to poets and later to story writers from elsewhere in the world (126).

The success of The Fiddlehead must have come, in part, from Bailey's original progressive ideas towards writing poetry.2 This allowed for a climate of forwardness within the society that did not keep the magazine a private publication. In 1953, under Fred Cogswell, it branched out in order to reach a public audience, changing its format, and including book reviews. U.N.B. President A.W. Trueman, in the "Foreward" to this issue writes:

It is now the intention of The Fiddlehead to open its pages to poets anywhere in the English-speaking world. In sponsoring this development, the Bliss Carman Society hopes to extend the audience to which it speaks, and to enrich the contribution which it has been making, on a modest scale, for the past eight years. There is not only room in Canada for a magazine of this type; there is a need of it (2).

The magazine later expanded to include fiction and art work in its pages. The Fiddlehead's success, therefore, is in large part due to the competent and dedicated editors it has attracted.

The need for a poetry magazine, mentioned by Trueman, is noted by George Woodcock:

The middle fifties, after the disappearance of Alan Crawley's Contemporary Verse and John Sutherland's Northern Review, was a singularly barren period, in which only The Canadian Forum and Fiddlehead effectively sustained the publication of poetry (290).

By providing Fiddlehead with Contemporary Verse's, subscriber's list, Alan Crawley encouraged the new magazine to help fill the void left by the demise of Contemporary Verse.

The most prominent of Fiddlehead's editors is Fred Cogswell (mentioned above) who edited the magazine from 1952 to 1966. Without Cogswell's firm direction and dedication, The Fiddlehead would be a much different, perhaps less successful, publication. Not only did Cogswell expand the magazine when he took over as editor, but helped finance it from his own pocket, as well as financially supporting many of the writers who were contributors. His dedication, which becomes evident when reading through the collection, cannot be underestimated.

Cogswell had a long and close association with The Fiddlehead, and many of the letters of submission are of a personal, as well as professional nature. In accepting, or rejecting a submission Cogswell nearly always responded with a personal letter containing advice and criticism. This, in many cases, fostered correspondences that lasted many years. Examples are Al Purdy, Dorothy Roberts, Alden Nowlan, Joy Kogawa, and Luella Booth. As well, by encouraging young writers, he built a base of contributors who, because of the support they received, became submitters of quality poetry and fiction.

As well as editing The Fiddlehead, Cogswell also began publishing Fiddlehead Poetry Books in the 1950s. The first two titles were his own The Stunted Strong, and G.V. Downes' The Lost Diver in 1955. He published Al Purdy's Emu, Remember! in 1957. When in 1967 Cogswell handed over the editorship of Fiddlehead to Kent Thompson, he put his effort into Fiddlehead Poetry Books and published over three hundred titles between 1955 and 1981 when Peter Thomas took over.

Dr. Fred Cogswell

© Joy Cummings
UNB Audio-Visual Services

The Fiddlehead/Cogswell Collection is sixteen linear feet (4.7 metres), and includes correspondence from the years 1945 to 1975. The correspondence deals mainly with the submission of poetry, but there is also a large section dealing with the business aspects of Fiddlehead. Also included are drafts of poetry submissions, book reviews, and poetry manuscripts from Fiddlehead Poetry Books.

The collection is expanding because of continued donations from Dr. Cogswell.


  1. George Woodcock notes: "Except for three or four university-supported periodicals, very few existing Canadian literary magazines in fact date from before 1960" (290).

  2. Poetry in New Brunswick, after Sherman, Carman, and Roberts attempted to imitate these, and other Victorian models. While a student in Montreal, Bailey was introduced to modern writing trends, and it was this style of experimentation with form, and subject that he was interested in accomplishing with the Bliss Carman Society.

Works Consulted

     Cockburn, Robert and Robert Gibbs.  Intro.  Ninety Seasons:
          Modern Poems From the Maritimes.  Toronto; McLelland and 
          Stewart, 1974.
     Gibbs, Robert.  "English Poetry in New Brunswick, 1940-1982." 
          A Literary and Linguistic History of New Brunswick.  Ed. 
          W.R. Gair. Fredericton:  Gooselane Editions and
          Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1985.
     Henderson, Mark.  "The Fiddlehead:  Growth of a Magazine."   
           Cormorant (8):  30-32.
     Trueman, A.W.  "Foreward."  The Fiddlehead.  18 (1953):  2.
     Woodcock,  George.  "Poetry."  Literary History of Canada.
          Vol. III.  Carl F. Klinck Ed.  Toronto:  U of Toronto 
           Press, 1965.


The preparation of this finding aid has been a collaborative effort. Acknowledgements to Linda Hill who began sorting the collection in the Spring and Summer of 1991; Lisa Charlong who numbered and recorded all of MS1 and MS2A; Patti Auld who typed and proofread all of the collected information; Mary Flagg under whose guidance all of this happened. Their efforts, as is apparent, were great.

John Keefe
B.A. (University of Prince Edward Island)
M.Phil. (Glasgow University)
B.Ed. (University of New Brunswick)
Archival Assistant
Harriet Irving Library



MS1-- Correspondence, 1945-1966

MS2-- Correspondence, 1967-1975

MS2A-- Correspondence, Kent Thompson (editor), 1967-1969

MS3-- Correspondence, undated

MS4-- Correspondence, Luella Booth, 1964-1973

MS5 -- Correspondence, Joy Kogawa, 1964-1974

MS6-- Correspondence, Alden Nowlan, 1955-1972

MS7-- Poetry

MS8-- Prose

MS9-- Fiddlehead Poetry Books - Manuscripts

MS10-- Business Papers


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