Our History

Jean Van Loon and Dorian Bell served as co-artistic directors during a time of significant transition for Tree in 2018. They were supported by board members Elanor Boyle-Stanley, Claire Farley, Chris Johnson, Natalie Leduc, Scott Lemoine, and Jamie MacPerson, and volunteers Sarah MacDonell and Jane Hamilton. The board launched a major fundraising campaign and made adjustments to Tree's programming as part of their Tree Renews program.


Pearl Pirie was artistic director from 2016 to 2018. Other board members during this time included Elanor Boyle-Stanley and Colin Morton. Volunteers played a crucial role supporting Tree at this time. For 4 years Nina Drystek was the media arm of Tree, and, in 2017, that role segued to Sarah MacDonell. In 2017, after several years as videographer, Shai Ben Shalom stepped down and Brian Pirie stepped in. Chris Johnston coordinated the Tree Seed Workshops from 2014 to 2018. Nicole Findlay was the volunteer emcee and Jamie MacPherson was the book table volunteer and floater for gear and cheer.


By Colin Morton and Deanna Young (2013-2016)

The reading series is recognized as a reliable and professionally operated organization dedicated to promoting Canadian literature. Tree is widely respected for its program, its active role in poetry circles in Ottawa and beyond, and its efforts to expand poetry's reach in the community. Tree hopes to inspire and sustain the development of Ottawa’s literary community, promoting it as an important community for Canadian literary arts.


Tree has played a significant role in championing VERSe Ottawa and VERSeFest, bringing together the various poetry groups in Ottawa to work together. VERSeFest is VERSe Ottawa’s collaborative poetry festival. Tree continues to support both.


Tree began to take summer hiatus to run 10 months of the year, recessing for the summer months of July and August. Readings are held twice a month and once in December. There are annual chapbook contest, regular open mic, workshops and feature readings. 


Tree's operations are made possible partly through annual funding from the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council. Tree also relies on the continued support of the Canada Council and the League of Canadian Poets Mandate.


Key volunteers are technical assistant Shai ben Shalom, Seed Workshop co-ordinator Chris Johnson, and publicity and social media assistant, Nina Jane Drystek.  In 2016 Tree welcomed aboard Claire Farley to the board and Pearl Pirie as the new Tree Co-director.


By James Moran - Former Director (2001-2006) of the Tree Reading Series 

With files from Chris Sorrenti and Lynne Alsford, both early members of the Tree Reading Series,  Oscar Martens, Tree organizer from 1993-1995, and a Centretown News article written by Vivian Lee dated February 24, 1994.


Five people founded Tree in 1979 or 1980  to establish a creative writing club. Since  then, members of the group – writers,  poets and anyone interested in literature –  have gathered twice monthly to share their  own writing and the writing of others.  Founders include Joe Lacroix, Nelson Oliver  and Jim McCauley, soon joined by Juan O'Neill, Paul Ryan and Marty Flomen.


The first Tree reading occurred at the old  Fire Hall in the Glebe, with Jane Jordan as  the first featured poet. The occasion was a  special tribute to Jane, who was instrumental  in developing poetry readings and encouraging  poets in Ottawa. Co-founder Marty Flomen said  Tree was never named for any symbolic reason. “Somebody yelled out ‘How about tree?’” said Flomen. “Nobody argued and the name stuck.”


Soon after inauguration, Tree began holding readings in the Friends’ Quaker Centre on Fourth Avenue, moving, after about five years to the Jack Purcell Community Centre, then back to the new Friends’ Quaker Centre. Tree moved to the Glebe Community Centre in about 1988.


Meetings have always occurred on the second and fourth Tuesdays monthly, except in December, when a meeting is held on the second Tuesday only – the all open mic or ‘Christmas Tree’ evening. In the 1990s, a joint Christmas party with the Orion reading series rounded out the year's activities, usually on the third Friday evening of the month. This collaboration no longer takes place.


In 1982, Marcus Jokinnen and Andrew Coward took over the organization. About three years later, Deborah McMullin joined. Jokinnen and Coward held a ‘poetry fest’ for two or three years during this Heather Ferguson became the organizers. Heather was largely responsible for expanding, improving and rejuvenating Tree. In 1988, Tree and the Sasquatch Reading Series co-sponsored and organized the Juryroom Workshop, a critical forum for poetry and fiction run by Juan O’Neill. Shortly after, organizers added the Jane Jordan Poetry Contest. These events are no longer on-going.


Circumstances such as the availability and price of venues have haphazardly affected Tree’s location. In 1998, Irene’s Pub, in the Glebe, hosted Tree and the Saw Gallery on Nicholas Street was home to Tree in 1999. When the Saw Gallery was renovating in 1999, Tree moved into the Royal Oak II Pub at 161 Laurier Avenue East. The Oak granted the venue for free, in a basement seldom used during regular evenings.


Some recent former organizers include directors Sylvia Adams and rob mclennan, Assistant Director Stephen B. Harding. Director Nadine Miller’s tenure ended in January 2000. From 1993-1995, many authors read under the auspices of the Canada Council for Arts, including Christopher Dewdney, Terry Griggs, and Steven Heighton.


James Moran, director, and Darryl Wright, former  Assistant director, took over the series in January  2000, from Nadine Miller and her husband. Their tenure  brought new life and a steady audience to the series,  not to mention quality authors. Kerry McNulty was  Tree’s Treasurer during the spring and summer of  2000. With the addition of Jennifer Mulligan as  Webmaster and Treasurer in May 2000, Tree has had  a steady improvement in the calibre of writers and  audience attendance. This new Tree executive revived  the series’ funding, booking a steady number of authors  through the Canada Council for the Arts and the League  of Canadian Poets. Tree has also successfully applied for City of Ottawa funding since the fall of 2000.


In the fall of 2005, the anthology ‘Twenty-Five Years of Tree’ was published by Buschek Books (www.buschekbooks.com) to showcase the history of the series and the writing of the many authors that have read at Tree over the years.


In December 2005, the ‘James and Jennifer’ team moved on to new things, including focusing on their own writing, and Rhonda Douglas, Dean Steadman and Joanne Steadman formed the new organizing executive of the Tree Reading Series. In January 2008, Rhonda also departed Tree to pursue her writing interests and Dean took over as Tree’s Director with new executive members Rod Pederson, Don Officer and Nicole Chatelain, and the continued assistance of Joanne as Treasurer.


Rod Pederson became Tree’s director in 2009. The series flourished and several standard program elements added interest to the readings. A series of retreat weekends happened called  Tree Master Weekend  under Rona Shraffron in 2010 and 2011. The most successful and lasting of these is the free one hour workshops curated by Pearl Pirie until 2014 at which point it was passed to Chris Johnston.  

In 2012 Claudia Radmore began organizing the Tree Chapbook contest, finding a guest judge each year. In December 2012 Rod retired and the team of Carol Stephen, Deanna Young and Margaret Zielinski took over. Carol subsequently resigned, and in October 2013 Colin Morton took over as treasurer. Tree moved from Arts Court to Club Saw, and in June 2014 found a congenial home at Black Squirrel Books, 1073 Bank Street, where it continues to present a program of fine poets from across Canada.