A 12-show musical tour by canoe

Tracking down singer-songwriter Peirson Ross's musical canoe tour across Ontario and Quebec

Morris, left, and Wolf.
Ross, left, and Wolf.

WILD ONES

Peirson Ross’s newest album was conceived far from the crystalline lakes, rocky shores and pine trees that defined the Canadian singer-songwriter’s adolescence as a canoe-tripper at Ontario’s Onondaga Camp. Yet Ross’s Wild Ones captures the lure of remote places and the essence of the animals that inhabit North America’s ever-shrinking wilderness. Each track represents a Canadian province, paired with an endangered species. Ross wrote most of the album over the course of two years while living in New York City. “It was a homesick project,” he says. 

Now, Ross has returned to his roots, kicking off the Wild Ones tour with a month-long canoe trip, paddling between gigs in central Ontario and Quebec with his old Onondaga friend, long-distance canoe-tripper and expedition filmmaker Frank Wolf. Twelve shows along the 550-mile tour support the efforts of regional and national environmental organizations like the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Ecojustice

We caught up with Ross and Wolf in camp on the Oxtongue River in Algonquin Provincial Park.

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CanoeKayak.com: Where did you get the idea for this trip?
Peirson Ross: It was born out of a desire to get back on tour and to reconnect with home. I used to do a lot of tripping and hadn’t seen Frank in awhile. This was a great way to get back into touring and stagework.

Frank Wolf: I think this is the ultimate Canadian music tour. The canoe is our touring van, Peirson is the performer and I’m the roadie/filmmaker. It’s all keyed around a big performance in Ottawa on Canada Day (July 1). We’re out here enduring the mosquitoes to arrive in Ottawa in time for our nation’s birthday.

Peirson, what’s it been like to get back in a canoe?
Ross: Even while living in New York, Toronto and LA I’ve managed to get back for a few two-week canoe trips, but at a more recreational pace. It’s been rewarding to get back into Frank’s world. We have to push the pace to make it to each show on time. My guitar hand is getting used to paddling. Initially there were some pins and needles. Actually, doing the social media stuff on trip has been the biggest challenge.

Tell us about your average day on the water.
Wolf: The days vary. Today was a long one, dragging up shallow rapids on the Oxtongue. We are portaging a lot, typically traveling from 9 or 10 in the morning till 7 at night, averaging 30 or 40 kilometers per day. Peirson has been great. He’s a natural tripper and worked as a tree-planter so the bugs aren’t an issue for him.

What’s it like to paddle into town for a gig?
Ross: It’s a great feeling. There’s such a contrast between the peace and quiet of the trip and performing. On a typical day in the city, I’ll do three session jobs, write lyrics for a client who doesn’t speak English and then perform at night. Sometimes it seems like I pick up the phone as much as I play instruments to make ends meet. Right now we’re in the midst of five days between shows and all I have to worry about is paddling. It’s been great to unwind.

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— Follow the Wild Ones canoe tour online and listen to the album’s title track on CBC Music.

— Check out Frank Wolf’s installment in our Voices of Wilderness series, and read about his 400-mile expedition across Labrador.