Humans have been pulling inspiration from the rugged, lonesome Canadian wilderness since time immemorial.
From the traditional songs of this land’s first peoples to the novels penned by first generation immigrants, Canadians have long looked to artists to interpret, translate and immortalize the solitude and grandeur of our expansive landscape.
Former Jasper National Park warden Bradley Bischoff and his fellow warden musicians who together form The Wardens have firmly entrenched themselves in this tradition of landscape-inspired storytelling.
The trio composed of Bischoff on vocals and lead/rhythm guitar, Ray Schmidt on vocals, upright bass and mandolin and Scott Ward on vocals and fingerstyle guitar will be bringing their stories, instruments, and years of park experience to the Errington Hall on Nov. 1.
All three are currently based in the Banff National Park-area. Ward was a warden in Banff for over thirty years, and Schmidt is currently posted in Rogers Pass. They are the original members of the group, with Bischoff joining shortly after they formed. The NEWS reached Bischoff in his Canmore, Alta. home.
Bischoff came out west from Ottawa in 1977.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” said Bischoff with a laugh.
He started working in Jasper National Park in 1981. Fast forward to a warden reunion in Banff in 2009 that brought wardens from across the country together. Schmidt and Ward had formed a duo and were playing songs inspired by their time out in the parks. Bischoff was doing the same but on his own, and all three performed throughout the weekend.
“We decided to get together and start working up some songs. And son of a gun, that was you know, 11 years ago, and we’re just going full steam ahead and really enjoying it all,” said Bischoff.
“I knew from the start that we had something very unique, and something appealing. With a little practice, I think most people can have some success singing and playing the guitar. But it’s making a show of it, making a concert of it – that’s when the magic happens. That’s something that we work very very hard on. Our vocals are very strong, our storytelling integral to a warden show.”
The trio often preface special tunes with a back story of how the song came to be. They also bring a large format slide projection show that will roll images that correspond with the music as they play.
“It really is an engaging concert… we love the connection that we make with our audiences, with our performances, and people are really enjoying it,” said Bischoff.
During his career, Bischoff would spend 17 days alone in the back country, come back to civilization for four days and then head out again.
“It was me, three horses, and a goodly portion of Jasper National Park,” said Bischoff.
Though that may sound daunting to some, Bischoff had found his calling.
The stewardship of such lands is an artistry of itself, but for Bischoff it begets something more.
“I really enjoyed the solitude of it… that’s just something that I really enjoyed, just being out there. Certainly a lot of time to think about songwriting, and just an endless supply of material to draw from, from a career like that. From the wilderness, and the horses, to the people you meet out there. The history of the warden service, some of the characters from years gone by and such,” said Bischoff.
Translated, it all comes out sounding like a sublime slice of Canadiana.
“The well’s pretty deep. We continue to draw from that. We’re into our fourth album right now, and you know, still really just scratching the surface as to what material might be available to us as wardens and songwriters from the lifestyle that we’ve experienced for 30 years,” said Bischoff.
Since the songs and stories are inspired by the landscape and the creatures encountered therein, it only makes sense that Bischoff’s best writing comes when he’s out in the wilderness. Though he’s retired now, he still gets out with his horses and always keeps a notebook in his breast pocket for when the words inevitably start to flow.
“When you’re out there on the trail, when you’re out there in the elements – it seems to be easier to grasp when you’re in the thick of it, instead of trying to put yourself out there when you’re in your living room, or in your car or something,” said Bischoff.
“When you’re up to your eyeballs in it, the inspiration comes more quickly and more readily, I suspect.”
The Wardens will tour throughout Vancouver Island in the first half of November, heading to Sidney, Ucluelet, Roberts Creek and many other locations on the coast.
The show at the Errington Hall on Nov. 1 starts at 8 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the Errington General Store, Cranky Dog and Heaven on Earth for $20.
They are also available online for $22.50 at erringtonhall.tickit.ca. Youth ages six to 12 are $5 at the door and those under six get in free.
Anyone interested in finding out more about The Wardens music can head to www.thewardensmusic.com.