Hemsworth recorded The Black Fly Song in 1955 for Smithsonian Folkways on the album “Folk Songs of the Canadian North Woods” (FW 6821), a collection of the type quite popular during the folk music revival of that period. It spread further when “Sing Out!” magazine published the song in 1958, and Canadian folk song collector Edith Fowke included it in her 1960 collection “Canada’s Story in Song,” which introduced the song to a generation of school children.
The notable Canadian folk group The Travellers helped popularize the song in their concerts, and recorded it in 1960 on Columbia and again on their 1967 Centennial album (as The Black Flies of Ontario.) Hemsworth himself was a regular performer at the Mariposa Folk Festival through the 1960s, and the song was – and still is – aired on popular folk radio programs.
This catchy little ditty has been recorded or performed by Omar Blondahl, The Courriers, Merrick Jarrett, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Murray McLauchlan, Doug Paisley, Rick (Avery) and Judy (Greenhill), Bill Staines, Jackie Washington, and numerous other bands and folk singers, as well as around countless campfires.
As everyone knows who has visited or worked in the Canadian wilderness, the black fly can be an agent of torture. There is no escape from the pesky aggressive little critters, whose bites can make life truly miserable. Hemsworth captures the humour of this situation in his minor-key chorus:
“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 Ontari-o-i-o, in North Ontario.”
Hemsworth’s beloved song was made into a five-minute animated film by the National Film Board of Canada in 1991. “Blackfly” was nominated for an Oscar for its hilarious portrait of the human-versus-insect conflict. Hemsworth sings and the McGarrigle sisters provide backing vocals.
Hemsworth included The Black Fly Song in his 1990 songbook and his 1996 CD “The Songs of Wade Hemsworth” (on his Blackfly Music label). The song also features on the compilation albums “Rough Guide to the Music of Canada ” and “Classic Canadian Songs from Smithsonian Folkways.”
The band Finnigan’s Tongue won a Porcupine Award in 1995 for their take on the song.
Wade Hemsworth, graphic artist, singer-songwriter (1916–2002) pursued folk singing as a hobby after learning many varied songs during his World War II military service in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He was one of the earliest to promote Canada’s folk songs. Hemsworth is also known for composing The Log Driver’s Waltz.