Canada’s protected wilderness was live on centre stage at Bethel Church in Quesnel earlier this week.
Quesnel Live Arts hosted Rocky Mountain-based band The Wardens on Monday, March 14.
Scott Ward, Ray Schmidt and Scott Duncan had last performed in Quesnel several years ago and were thrilled to return to share their stories and mountain music rising from the land they’ve protected as national park wardens.
“This is pretty good for a Monday, I’d say, and this is nice space actually,” Schmidt told the crowd.
“We’re really happy to be playing here. We played at the high school the last time, and just for the record, we’ve been talking about that 2016 tour ever since then—it was such a blast and we love coming to all these communities.”
Amongst their songs shared was “Sleeping Buffalo” released in 2017.
Schmidt explained it was in celebration of the return of free-ranging buffalo in Banff National Park.
The large mammals once numbered in the millions, roaming the valleys and meadows of North America and were nearly driven to extinction before Canada’s oldest national park was established in 1885.
One of the last remaining plains bison herds were purchased by the Canadian government at the insistence of Howard Douglas, the first superintendent of Banff National Park, Schmidt said.
The bison from Montana were trapped and shipped via rail to Alberta, where descendants of the herd continue to reside today in Elk Island National Park.
“There was a bit of a buffalo herd but never a wild herd as it was dreamed of by Douglas,” Schmidt said.
In 2017 16 pregnant females were sent to the backcountry of Banff.
“We put them in a fenced enclosure, and they gave birth to a set of calves,” Schmidt said.
“The next year they gave birth to another set of calves, so clearly there were males in the herd too, and then after two years getting used to their surroundings, we swung the gates wide open and we now have wild buffalo back in Canada’s very first national park.”
The Wardens also performed “Neil Colgan” from their self-titled extended play album released in 2013.
Ward said the song was in honour of Colgan who was kicked off his horse while travelling alone in a remote region of Banff in 1979.
He wrote a touching letter to his loved ones before passing away beneath a tree of internal bleeding at the age of 28.
Ward said over the span of his career there were six fellow wardens killed in the line of duty between Banff and Jasper National Park.
“It was a pretty dangerous job working with bears, working alone in the backcountry, and of course, there’s firefighting, mountain rescue, avalanche forecast and avalanche control, so we lost a few along the way,” he said.
Performed from their latest album, Sold Out at the Ironwood, was “Selkirk Snow,” which marked a new format for The Wardens. They combined the no-vocal song with pictures of Rogers Pass, which is located inside Glacier National Park and is one of the country’s snowiest places prime for avalanches and dangerous driving amid world-class backcountry skiing.
Before closing with “Ya Ha Tinda Bound” from their 2013 album, The Wardens thanked Quesnel Live Arts (QLA) and those in attendance.
“It’s tough,” Schmidt said.
“After a couple of years of being welded to that couch…I know how hard it is, so let’s give you all a huge round of applause and QLA for bringing us out here today — let’s keep the live music going.”
After Quesnel, The Wardens were set to perform in Burns Lake, Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
(Correction: “Neil Colgan” is featured on The Wardens 2013 album, with “Neil Colgan-Live” on their 2021 album Sold Out at the Ironwood.)
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