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The Blackfly Song was written by Wade Hemsworth, of Morin Heights, Québec, who worked the bushlands of Northern Ontario and Quebec in the 1940s and 50s. He recorded his ode to Northern Ontario, The Black Fly Song, on the New York based Folkways Records label in 1955. This song has been recorded by dozens of artists including The Scotians, and The Travellers. It tells of the trials and tribulations of working on the Little Abitibi survey crew, of having to cover yourself in bacon fat and balsam gum to keep the bugs away. It speaks of a raw country unfit for human beings and the desire to never return to that God forsaken place again! For an Ottawa Citizen article on Wade Hemsworth, click here.

Listen to the children of Abitibi Canyon sing the Blackfly Song. From the 1960's film Call of the Canyon. The speaker is school principal Gladys Ramsbottom. The children's choir is led by Margaret Glendinning. Click to download (File size: 1.15 MB) and listen. Requires RealAudio or RealPlayer.


'Twas early in the spring when I decide to go
For to work up in the woods of North Ontario.
The unemployment office said they'd send me through
To the Little Abitibi with the survey crew

And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly no matter where you go
I'll die with the black fly a Pickin' my bones
In North Ontar-i-o-i-o, In North Ontar-i-o

The man Black Tobey was the captain of the crew
He said, I'm gonna tell you boys, what we're gonna do
They want to build a power dam; we must find a way
For to make the Little Ab flow around the other way

So we survey the east, survey to the west.
We couldn't make our minds up how to do it best
Little Ab, Little Ab, what shall I do?
I'm all but goin' crazy on the survey crew.

'Twas blackfly, blackfly, everywhere
A-crawlin' in your whiskers, a-crawlin' in your hair
A-swimmin' in the soup and a-swimmin' in the tea
The devil take the blackfly and let me be.

Black Tobey fell to swearin'; the work went slow
The state of our morale was a-gettin' pretty low
The flies swarmed heavy; it was hard to catch a breath
As you staggered up and down the trail talkin' to yourself

The bull cook's name was Blind River Joe
If it hadn't been for him we'd 've never pulled through
He bound up our bruises and he kidded us for fun
And he lathered us with bacon grease and balsam gum

At last the job was over, Black Tobey said, we're through
With the Little Abitibi and the survey crew!
'Twas a wonderful experience and this I know;
I'll never go again to North Ontar-i-o

© 1957 Southern Publishing Co. Ltd.


Although this is the best known of the "Canyon" songs, several more were written over the years. Check out some more lighthearted looks at Canyon life under "Other Canyon Hits."