Interest in getting off the grid, being a growing survivalist during the pandemic | Radio-Canada News

While Canadians are holed up at home away from family and friends or clearing grocery store shelves of toilet paper, others have taken pandemic precautions a step further this year, turning to off-grid living and learning survival skills.

Chuck Wrathall, a survivalist and photographer from Cape Breton, runs an Instagram account dedicated to his adventures and has received an influx of messages from people wanting to learn the ropes since COVID-19 hit.

“Bushcraft has exploded. People love wilderness skills. They want to know how to survive, how to feed themselves, how to get out, hunt and gather,” he said. “Also, they want to know how to be self-sufficient, which could mean being off-grid or self-sufficient, having solar power or having water.”

Wrathall can’t say for sure what draws so many people to the survivalist community he’s been a part of for 10 years. He frequently travels to the woods where he forages for food and purifies his own water, sets up basic shelter and cooks over an open flame – outdoor escapades he documents on social media.

Charles Moffat’s Facebook group, Off the Grid: Eastern Canada, had about 300 members before the pandemic. As 2020 draws to a close, the number of band members has grown to around 1,500.

Moffat’s group focuses on everything that comes with off-grid living, from farming and water purification to advice on sustainable living.

His group is not the only one to see an increase in its members lately. Facebook groups like Canadian Prepper, Canada Emergency Preppers and Preppers & Survivalists of Canada have also seen an uptick since the start of the pandemic.

The International Canadian School of Survival, a Manitoba-based organization specializing in skills such as bushcraft, land navigation, wildlife awareness and survival training, said that although the pandemic has kept people from take classes in person, there have been many inquiries.

“There’s been an increase in a lot of different areas, from a lot of different people, from a lot of different backgrounds,” said Dave MacDonald, lead instructor and school president.

Although it cannot hold in-person classes, the Canadian International School of Survival has received many inquiries from people interested in taking survival classes, says Dave MacDonald, the school’s president and head instructor. (Submitted by Dave MacDonald)

MacDonald, a former search and rescue technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force, said the school’s wilderness survival and safety course is getting a lot of interest. The course focuses on first aid, injury prevention, foraging and building shelter. He also saw a growing interest in navigation and the use of maps, compasses and GPS.

Along with being one of the few outdoor activities people can do during the pandemic, Wrathall said being a survivalist teaches ingenuity — a skill that always comes in handy.

“These kind of TV shows like Preparers of the apocalypse and stuff like that … made a mockumentary about prepping and stuff,” he said. “But then, of course, the pandemic hits and who is right now? The guys who were getting ready.”

Preparers of the apocalypse was a reality television show that featured survivors, but was criticized by some for exploiting and ridiculing its subjects.

But preparing for disaster is not an unconventional idea.

Organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross regularly recommend that people keep disaster preparedness kits in their homes with enough supplies, food and water to meet their needs for at least three days. Earlier this year, when the pandemic escalated, many Canadians found themselves clean their local stores of Lysol disinfectant wipes, toilet paper and hand sanitizer before quarantine.

Psychologist Simon Sherry said anxiety about running out of essential supplies could prompt some people to practice preparedness.

Prolonged contact with nature has beneficial effects on mental and physical health, says psychologist Simon Sherry. (photo sent)

“Not everyone who is stockpiling may be irrational about scarcity,” said Sherry, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University.

He said that in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder can cause a person to go off the grid or engage in survivalist behavior. Likewise, fear and anxiety can cause people to behave differently than they normally would, including engaging in more excessive purchases to allay their fears.

Sherry said examples in popular culture like Preparers of the apocalypse have contributed greatly to how people in the survivalist community are perceived. But like any other behavior, there are various reasons why people do what they do, he said.

“Well-adjusted humans often have a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency…More and more, we are learning the importance of time and nature, and the restorative benefits of contact with nature in terms of mental health. and physical,” he said.

“A self-sufficient lifestyle that involves extended contact with nature might very well be better than doing it on the 102 on your commute to your nine-to-five.”

Wrathall backs up that sentiment, saying that for many people like him, practicing things like bushcraft and survival skills is more than pandemic precaution — it’s a way of life.

“Every time I go out into the woods it’s my escape. After work, you have a bad day, I can go and practice my bushcraft skills,” he said. “I’m just completely isolated in the desert. There’s nothing better than that.”

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