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The Black Fly Song

The Black Fly Song

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"The Black Fly Song" is a song by Wade Hemsworth
Wade Hemsworth
Albert Wade Hemsworth was a Canadian folk singer and songwriter. Although he was not a prolific composer, having written only about 20 songs during his entire career, several of his songs — most notably "The Wild Goose", "The Black Fly Song" and "The Log Driver's Waltz" — are among the most...

, written in 1949, about working in the wilds of Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario is a region of the Canadian province of Ontario which lies north of Lake Huron , the French River and Lake Nipissing. The region has a land area of 802,000 km2 and constitutes 87% of the land area of Ontario, although it contains only about 6% of the population...

. It is an enduring classic of Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 folk music
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

, covered by a variety of other artists. A new version of the song (with accompanying vocals by Kate and Anna McGarrigle
Kate and Anna McGarrigle
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, were a pair of Canadian singer-songwriters from Quebec, who performed as a duo until Kate McGarrigle's death on January 18, 2010.-Profile:...

) which had a completely different tempo to the original, was made into an animated
Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. The effect is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision, and can be created and demonstrated in several ways...

 short film entitled Blackfly by Christopher Hinton
Christopher Hinton (animator)
Christopher Hinton is a Canadian film animator and professor, living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He has been twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, in 1991 for the National Film Board of Canada animated short Blackfly and in 2003 for his independently made short...

 and the National Film Board
National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada is Canada's twelve-time Academy Award-winning public film producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes documentary, animation, alternative drama and digital media productions...

 in 1991, and was nominated for Best Animated Short Film
Academy Award for Animated Short Film
The Academy Award for Animated Short Film is an award which has been given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of the Academy Awards every year since the 5th Academy Awards, covering the year 1931-32, to the present....

 at the 64th Academy Awards
64th Academy Awards
The 64th Academy Awards were presented March 30, 1992 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles. The show was the third consecutive to be hosted by Billy Crystal...

 in 1992.

Plot and musical elements of the song

Although Hemsworth had stated he wrote the song while in Labrador
Labrador is the distinct, northerly region of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It comprises the mainland portion of the province, separated from the island of Newfoundland by the Strait of Belle Isle...

, the song talks about the experiences Hemsworth had while accompanying an Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario
Ontario Hydro
Ontario Hydro was the official name from 1974 of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario which was established in 1906 by the provincial Power Commission Act to build transmission lines to supply municipal utilities with electricity generated by private companies already operating at Niagara...

 crew surveying the Little Abitibi River
Little Abitibi River
The Little Abitibi River is a river in northern Ontario. It runs about 120 kilometres up into the Abitibi Canyon, where Ontario Power Generation's Abitibi Canyon Generating Station dams the river at Fraserdale, an abandoned railway town....

 to the determine the feasibility of erecting a dam. The Abitibi Canyon Generating Station
Abitibi Canyon Generating Station
Abitibi Canyon Generating Station is a hydroelectric power plant located 80 km north of Smooth Rock Falls, within Pitt Township in Northern Unorganized Cochrane District, in Ontario, Canada. This facility is the fifth downstream hydroelectric plant of six on the Abitibi River. Designed by...

. He also mentioned "I wasn't with Black Toby … that was another expedition. I was writing a song; I wasn't writing literature."

It has been described as a "breakneck romp", characterized by a lively pace, though the first and last verses are reflective and slower. In addition, the verses for the most part hold an upbeat key, coming into contact with the abrasive chorus. Hemsworth provided a folksy tone and Canadian raising
Canadian raising
Canadian raising is a phonetic phenomenon that occurs in varieties of the English language, especially Canadian English, in which certain diphthongs are "raised" before voiceless consonants...

, and added some unique touches. To illustrate resentment for the flies, he places heavy emphasis on "black" in the words "black fly", but arguably the most distinct part of the song is where the word "Ontario" is stretched to "On-terr-eye-oh-eye-oh" (a pronunciation also used at times by other artists, such as Alan Mills and Stan Rogers).

Selection from the song

First Verse

'Twas early in the spring when I decided to go

To work up in the woods in North Ontario

And 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-eye-o-eye-o, In North Ontar-eye-o

External links