These Canadians are roughing it on YouTube for millions of fans
With their chickens, canned goods and off-the-grid adventures, Canada’s YouTubers escape the ills of modern life, in a decidedly modern format
To say Shawn James is well suited to the outdoors is like saying water is suited to a lake. In a land known for its unforgiving wilderness, he managed to turn it into an empire by taming it. James, who lives in the woods outside of Huntsville, Ontario, can fashion a log cabin out of 100 trees, casually whip up a meal of peat and peat from quail and beavertail, and build a sink in copper under the watchful eye of its gold scavenger, Cali. He has the video evidence to prove it.
With just over two million subscribers to his YouTube chain, “My Self Reliance,” James, who is 52 and hails from Barrie, Ontario, is the rugged face of the Canadian farm. Many other wilderness enthusiasts are broadcasting their ingenious returns to nature in a constant stream of videos with titles like “THE BEST AND WORST Livestock for Beginners” and “DIY Tallow Magnesium Lotion.” For a population plagued by criminally high urban real estate prices, supply chain disruption, viral content of the COVID variety, and the small matter of climate change, watching people happily grow produce , corralling piglets and running away in the wild is a voyeur’s dream. After all, going through the end times in your personal Walden doesn’t seem too bad.
The phenomenon of people plunging headlong into homesteads in the face of societal uncertainty is not a modern idea at all, says Toni Smith, a homesteader and professor of English at Vancouver Island University. “If people are disillusioned with capitalism or international politics, the simpler life comes to mind,” Smith says, citing similar back-to-the-land movements that sprung up after the Great Depression and the Vietnam War. . “We have the post-apocalyptic fantasy playing out in movies, TV, and conversations right now. If we don’t like this kind of fantasy, we also have that of escape.
James launched his channel after losing his outsourcing business in the 2008 financial crisis. Smith also embraced family ownership — and blogged about it — in the wake of the recession. She and her husband sold their condo in downtown Victoria, headed to rural Vancouver Island, and invested in a few chickens. These days, Smith’s husband is a full-time garlic farmer, their modest flock has grown to 60 heirloom hens, and they’ve landscaped a two-acre property with an apple orchard. Smith continues to work remotely as a full-time teacher.
For Dave Barrett and Amanda Caskenette, whose 40,000-subscriber chain, Wilderstead, takes its name from their 16-acre woodland in Ontario’s Algoma region, self-sufficiency is paramount. “What led us to this lifestyle was the ability to influence some of the most important aspects of your life,” says Caskenette, whose current food security strategy involves fishing, smoking of pork and a pile of DIY preserves. “It’s about not being shocked when system failures occur, like power outages and supply chain issues. We love being in control and building a community around it.
There is a certain irony in the fact that the same channels espousing isolationist lifestyles amass huge subscriptions. Radical self-sufficiency is an overtly libertarian idea, yes, but it also reflects a tension felt by many of today’s city dwellers: the desire to escape society while still needing it, deep down. “There’s something so Western about the feeling that self-sufficiency is an appropriate way to gain security,” Smith says. “The Indigenous perspective is the complete opposite: that there is only fragility when we don’t have interdependence.
For Jeff and Rose Burkinshaw, creators of Gridlessness (subscriber count: 146,000), documenting their off-grid lifestyle became a way to stay in touch with family and friends who asked, “What are you doing there? -down ?” The answer, as their viewers will attest, is: Tooling around their sprawling 40-acre property outside of Prince George, BC; tending to the living roof atop their 900 square foot cabin; dairy goat breeding; make kombucha; and doing metal and woodworking alongside their five daughters.
In addition to monetizing their channel, Jeff says the family plans to “put on a big show” with their first Off Grid Campouts, a real-life $650 retreat that involves building a communal fire pit and kitchen, the slaughter of a pig and participation in a leather workshop. Jeff expects at least some of those present to be subscribers.
YouTube now fills a void left by post-recession homesteading blogs, which have built a community around the transfer of past, almost primitive skills. “A lot of people say, ‘I listened to you and I planted a garden that was enough to make a salad,'” Caskenette explains. “The pride they feel when they are able to do this on their own, it shows in many of the comments we receive. “Even though viewers can’t set up their own greenhouse and propagate many heirloom vegetables, maybe they can grow a single tomato on a windowsill.
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“I believe the deep desire behind homesteading isn’t really self-reliance, as in ‘I don’t need other people,'” Jeff says. According to him, it is a question of re-examining its priorities. “How much time do you spend sitting alone commuting in the car? How much time do you spend with your children? How many new skills have you developed? A lot of people say, ‘I want to learn to weld, to riding or smoking a brisket. I want peace and I want time. I think almost everyone has had this moment; it’s just that some people actually do.
Smith says that for viewers who don’t want to get into the farm, brief sprees on YouTube — or tangential activities, like baking sourdough — can be a way to partake in the romance of the movement without engaging in way of life. According to Barrett, the same goes for youTubers, just upside down. “We were visiting Amanda’s parents over winter break, and I had to order pizza and have it show up at the door,” he says. “It was really good.”
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