Guide to Getting Back to the Land: Homesteading in Canada

Paul Thayne Conroy provides a personal guide on the basic preparation he needed to move back to the land when homesteading in Canada.

| September/October 1970

  • British Columbia wilderness
    All over Canada and the United States, people — both old and young — are attempting to get "back to the land".

  • British Columbia wilderness

All over Canada and the United States, people — both old and young  — are attempting to get "back to the land". Wonderful! I'm quite in favor of such action, even when taken to the extreme of turning one's back on civilization and striking off into the woods . . . as long as the folks involved are capable and know what they're doing. I strongly feel, however, that a number of would-be pioneers — especially those who are city-born and bred and whose only knowledge of wilderness living comes from the library — should be warned that homesteading in the bush may not be as simple and serene as they've imagined.

Sure. We've all read books that tell how Joe Fedup took his wife and three-year-old daughter into a remote area of British Columbia where they carved a ranch house out of the wilderness and a few old fir trees. There really are such people. But most generally they had some prior experience in bush living, the necessary skills and the proper frame of mind to see them through the difficulty of getting started. They weren't, in other words, rank tenderfeet when they made their big move.

Now I'm not saying that the stereotyped "Perils of the North" — things like an avalanche or attacking wild animals — will immediately do in any neophyte who tries to settle Back of Beyond. As a matter of fact, although I was once forced to kill an angry she-bear to save my own life, such glamourized dangers are extremely few and far between. You stand an infinitely greater chance of being mugged in New York's Central Park.

No, it's the unexpected little things that can relentlessly drip, drip, drip like the Chinese water torture until they drive you from the woods: Opening the door on a winter's morning to find your path blocked by a roof-high snow drift; spitting out mouthfuls of black flies during the first three weeks of summer; having the smoke from a stuffed-tip fireplace force you out into an 18-below night. These can all be both scary and dangerous.

There's even littler things: Finding you're out of sugar with the roads blocked may not seem like much but it can be damned hard on the person with a sweet tooth. Spending day after day after night after night after night with the same face or faces (even if you really love the people behind them) can occasionally hone your nerves to a raw edge.

Of course, such minor irritations are just that — minor and irritations only — to anyone with average common sense. The incidents are dangers solely to the dreamy individuals who waltz off into the woods completely unprepared: Folks who try to use 30-30 cartridges in a 303 rifle; "mighty hunters" that expect to live off the land with a bow and plastic arrows; Flower Children who plan to subsist on fish and herbs . . . but don't know how to clean a fish and wouldn't recognize a herb if one fell on them. I met all of these, by the way, on a recent trip to British Columbia.

Chances are, though — since you read MOTHER EARTH NEWS — you don't fall into that last category. Let's assume you're about as I was a few years back and start there

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