BOW VALLEY – It was originally written as a celebration song for Tim Auger's retirement from Parks Canada in 2006, but "Thousand Rescues" has become a tribute to the exceptional mountain climber, rescue warden and Bow Valley resident, who passed away in 2018.
It is the latest single to be released from The Wardens' third album that came out in January – Sold Out at the Ironwood – and features an online video of archived footage of Auger climbing mountains, in university and rescuing countless people in the mountains.
Scott Ward penned the song and worked with Auger in the specialized mountain rescue unit. Ward was the dog-handler, while Auger was in charge of the public safety division for many years.
"I actually wrote that song for Tim Auger's retirement party about 15 years ago, but we never got around to recording it until this most recent album," Ward said.
"Tim and I worked pretty close, too. We worked together for 30 years. I worked in the public safety shop with Tim for about 15 years ... we had a lot of adventures together."
The song recounts the life and times of one of the best climbers in Canada and a rescuer who plucked people out of danger in the mountains over the span of his career with Parks. There are humorous anecdotes from his youth, including climbing the Stawamus Chief, and the time in 1980 he fell 2,000 feet on Mount Logan, the highest peak in Canada.
"He was one of the top climbers in the country – an amazing climber and rescue technician – and also a super fun guy to work with," he said. "Everyone had the utmost respect for Tim. He was one of those rare people everybody loved and a quirky and funny guy. I cannot say enough good about him."
Ward said Auger was a humble man and did not like the limelight. When he heard the song at his retirement party, he quipped: "Well, you got everything in there."
Auger passed away in 2018 at 72. Ward said including "Thousand Rescues," the latest album from The Wardens has turned into a tribute to the legendary man.
"It was nice to get it recorded with Brad [Bischoff] and Ray [Schmidt], our fiddle player Scott Duncan and our producer Russell Broom," Ward said, adding it felt good to professionally record the song in the studio.
The video, produced by Schmidt, includes fact boxes that pop-up, sharing details about Auger's storied life and career.
"I wanted people to see this and understand how wild this stuff is," Schmidt said in a press release. "We have a rich history of mountain rescue in the national parks and Kananaskis Country. Tim Auger refined techniques in the modern era of helicopter rescue and developed systems that were lean, safe and quick.
"And Tim wasn't just a rescuer, but an active participant in the mountains. He was on the ground floor of the sport of ice climbing and developed new climbing routes that are still challenged today."
It is the third video released by the folk-roots trio from the album, as it is unable to tour as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wardens were on the way to perform a live show in Montana a year ago when the pandemic was declared, cutting the band's tour short.
"Ray has put together three videos for this album," Ward said. "He has done a video about Tim and one for 'Shining Mountains' and one for 'Coming Home.' "
"Ray's videos have kept the new record and kept us a little more front and centre – we haven't fallen under the radar due to COVID."
While the band has seen its exposure and popularity increase over its 11 years of touring, Ward said the future is less certain as a result of the current circumstances.
"Who knows what the future holds for us, we are just taking it as it comes," he said. "We might go from being a full-on international tour band, to doing a few local shows a year for fun."
Sold Out at the Ironwood is the band's third full-length album after Sleeping Buffalo (2017) and Bear 66 (2014). The latest release took two years to put together and produce. The Wardens worked with Juno-award winning producer Broom, who has also worked with Jann Arden and Ian Tyson, to name just a few.
"We were lucky to get him – he has a lot of knowledge and experience," Ward said. "Every artist likes to think their latest album is their best, but we pretty much know this is our best album to date – we are more experienced and had a really great producer."