A sold-out matinee and a well-attended evening act allowed the Wardens, a group of active and retired Parks Canada wardens, share their back- and front-country experiences through photographs, stories and songs as the latest offering from the Stettler Variety Showcase on Sunday, March 20.
Scott Ward and Bradley Bischoff are two retired wardens, and Ray Schmidt is a full-time warden. Together, they’re the Wardens – a group that mixes together folk, roots and western music – to create a unique Canadian music experience.
The group captivated the Stettler audience at the Performing Arts Centre with their tales of life as a Warden, from sitting in a small cabin watching the fire in the wood stove, to riding horses in the back-country and not seeing a living soul for weeks.
The music reflected those experiences, telling the stories but also finding a way to connect with experiences and memories of those in the audience, Bischoff said.
“Our careers have provided us with so much inspiration,” Bischoff said. “It gave us a lifetime of material to share. The wildlife, the back- and front-country, the interacting with people in the parks.”
Bischoff started working as a national park warden in 1981, and has been stationed in the south boundary of Jasper National Park, as well as working in parks from coast-to-coast.
Ward started with the national park service in 1969 in Banff, working the summers in the back-country, and winters as an avalanche forecaster. In 1983, he went on to be a search-and-rescue dog handler and spent nearly the remainder of his career responding to avalanches, missing persons calls, and incidents of poaching.
His last few years in service was back in the back-country on patrol, until he retired in 2005. He’s won a Governor General’s award for exemplary service as a peace officer.
The youngest member of the group, Schmidt, is a full-time warden in Banff. In addition to that, he is a writer and photographer.
The three knew each other through work, but had never performed together until 2009, when wardens from across Canada converged on Banff for the centennial celebration of the organization.
The three performed – separately – at the event, Bischoff recalled.
“We realized we were on to something,” he said, and the three got together and formed the Wardens.
Their first client was Parks Canada, who hired the trio to perform a “handful of shows” at Tunnel Mountain.
“It gave us a chance to hone our act,” Bischoff noted. He added that Parks Canada has been supportive of the trio.
The three now put on about 50 shows a year, from British Columbia to Saskatchewan. The small towns of the prairie provinces and mountainous northern rainforest are especially appealing to the three.
“Small town people, farmers and ranchers, they really have a lot in common (with us),” Bischoff explained. “They have that connection to the earth, to nature, to the wild.”