Every year, great poets and writers gather at Wolfe Island for one of my favourite events of the year – the Joe Burke Literary Festival.
Joe Burke was a criminal lawyer from Ottawa who had a real passion for life, but lost his own unexpectedly. The Litfest is a tribute to Joe, and is a rare opportunity to hear the language of "symbolism and imagery” replace the language of "argument and aggression.”
The idea for the festival started with Dave Bidini. I met Dave at the last Toronto Maple Leafs/Boston Bruins game ever played at Maple Leaf Gardens. We were both guests of Gord Downie before the game, and from that moment on Dave and I have been talking about our love of baseball, hockey, horses, water, and Northrup Frye. Out of that, many adventures were born, including the Joe Burke Litfest.
From the very first Litfest readings in May 2004, visiting artists embraced the idea of reading poetry and books out loud to the uninitiated. Prior to the festival, many (if not most of the audience) had never been to a literary festival and some had admittedly never read a novel. But after they attended the Litfest, that soon changed.
Litfest authors often sell out of all the books they bring. And writers like Dave Bidini, Tanis Rideout, and Steven Heighton have never missed a festival. (Joseph Boyden has attended half of them – not bad for a guy from New Orleans.)
And the event’s supporters? Most of the money comes from three criminal lawyers: Hal Mattson, Donald Bayne, and Mark Ertel. The extra help that makes the event special comes from Ed Smith at Windmills, Waterkeeper, the Mosiers, the Mattsons and of course, and most importantly, the attendees.
It’s been thirteen years and Litfest has grown. This casual gathering of authors has been a cornerstone for Waterkeeper's network for more than a decade.
The days are long and the waters are starting to warm up. Surrounded by family and friends – old and new – there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend the day under the sky beside the mighty St. Lawrence.
Hope to see you this weekend.
Thank you to everyone who has made Litfest the great event that it’s become. Special thanks to: