Survivorman says Canada is tops

Les Stroud who survives and stars in Survivorman which airs on Travel+Escape channel. (Photo: Blue Ant Media)

Les Stroud, who survives and stars in “Survivorman”, examines objects on a beach. The show airs on the Travel+Escape channel. (Blue Ant Media photo)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

Most of us have at least one friend or family member with similar character traits to Les Stroud, aka Survivorman, an adventurer who seems to have a deep aversion to comfort and an almost maniacal  sense of adventure.

For most normal people — aka me and most travellers I know — a vacation is something you take to relieve stress, relax, get away from the office and get as comfy as possible. The outdoors are worth seeing, of course, but when I visit  the great outdoors they’re usually a few quick steps away from the great indoors.

But for Stroud and those like him that just won’t do. Camping on a rocky hill somewhere in Northern Ontario with nothing but a magnifying glass, a hairpin for a fish hook, one sock with a hole in it for warmth and a bunch of tree branches for a tent is to such adventurous sorts what a weekend at British Columbia’s Bighorn Lodge is to the rest of us.

The path Stroud has chosen isn’t just an opportunity to get close to nature, but a chance to face a new challenge every week — all while educating his fans how to survive in some of the most unforgiving conditions you can imagine. A survival expert and an accomplished musician, Stroud has performed with Alice Cooper and Slash, and has won Best Acoustic/Folk Act, Best Blues Act and Best Overall awards at the Spirit of the North music festival in New Liskeard, Ontario. Stroud’s documentary Snowshoes and Solitude was named Best Documentary at the Muskoka Film Festival and Best Film at the Waterwalker Film Festival. He has been nominated for the Gemini Awards for his work on Survivorman. Survivorman airs on Wednesday evenings at 10PM ET/PT on Travel+Escape.

Stroud spoke to us about his travels, the music he loves, and his hope that more Canadians will get outdoors and see the great travel experiences our country delivers. What are some of your favourite Canadian stops?

Les Stroud: Often I’m asked what is the most beautiful place I’ve been in all my travels and usually the first answer is the high Canadian arctic, up in Baffin Island and Pond Inlet and up in those areas, are just really breathtaking. I really love going there. But here in Ontario, of course you can’t beat the North Shore of Lake Superior, it’s one of the nicest drives in all the world. Recently, I’ve shot some shows out in the Radium Springs area of British Columbia, and up in northern Alberta, just beautiful country when you get into the Rocky Mountains. But for me, I notice nature wherever I go. When we did a drive across Canada, I just loved noticing the Salt Lakes in the middle of the prairies. We live in a really beautiful country, that’s for sure.

Stroud: We’re very, very lucky in Canada. We really do have one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We tend to think the grass is always greener, but in reality what we have is world class. And you have been all over the world. How does Canada rate in your mind?

Stroud: It’s at the top! Well, I guess I really can’t expect you to say anything else!

Stroud: Oh no, I would, I could, I have no problem. I mean the high Andes in Peru are outstanding. The Canyonlands of Utah are really gorgeous. But in Canada, you know, we have it going on, and we better be careful, or we’re going to end up like some other places. But we certainly have the raw material and the ability to keep it as a place that still shows it’s pristine roots. Are there hidden gems in Canada that you think Canadians really need to get out and visit?

Stroud: Well yes, I mean it’s difficult because there’s a skill set that’s required when it comes to doing something like camping that not everybody has. But you know, there are always lodges and cabins and by that method I think people need to see farther northern Ontario. People need to go to a place like Wakanabi Provincial Park, where I shot my Snowshoes and Solitude film and where I spent a year living. It’s unbelievable, it’s really a beautiful place. But if it’s really a matter of driving from an urban centre like Toronto, then the same thing I would say about Tomagami, Ontario. Those are two incredible destinations. Those are places that aren’t heralded as well as going to other places yet they are stunning and beautiful. For people who want to follow in your footsteps, perhaps not go to the wall as you have, but experience more of the Canadian camping life, what do you suggest?

Stroud: Yeah! I think first of all they should start. One of the greatest ways is to go to a store like Mountain Equipment Coop and just go there and start talking to the employees. Check out the pinup board because there’s always great things going on. It does require a level of skill to go and camp, you just can’t go and do it. That’s a great place to start. Even the local colleges, like Humber College, often have backpacking courses or canoeing courses and you know what, they’re worth it because they answer a lot of basic questions, and they demystify the process of getting out to Canada’s wilderness. Now you have to forgive me, but you simply can’t talk about Les Stroud without talking about music. There’s definitely more to you than the outdoors. Can you talk about your relationship with music?

Stroud: I had been just paddling my canoe for a good eight years, not even picking up my guitar and I was living in Yellowknife running programs and I went into a blues bar. And as soon as I saw the stage again I just fell in love with the concept of playing again and performing, and I really missed it. And I was a big fan of the blues too, so I started playing and almost instantly, I was back on the stage again playing duets and solos and I never looked back from that. I started recording albums, performing more, performing in larger venues. I recently signed a record deal with Frostbite Universal Toronto in an international deal and I’m working on my first album to put out with them and expect to start touring in the spring with the album. Much of your music has an environmental theme to it.

Stroud: Yes, a lot of the music that I do is oriented toward celebrating the earth. It’s really kind of earth music. It’s about connecting to the planet, connecting to nature. Of course I write love songs, but in the end a lot of my music is more focused on nature. If you come and see me live you’ll see big screens with wilderness images and you’ll get stories about Survivorman and I’ll do Q & A about the show, but at the same time I’m going to rock you out with the music. So it’s really a full round of entertainment when you see me play, I’m here not only as a rocker and performer, but I’m here as Survivorman too. And you’ve been on stage with some big names too.

Stroud: That’s correct, I’ve had the opportunity to play with Robbie Krieger of the Doors, Alice Cooper, Tommy Shaw, The Roots, John Popper from Blues Traveler. Recently I played with Slash. Wow, that must have been interesting.

Stroud: Yes, played with Slash and the guys from Guns ‘n Roses, minus Axl. And had a blast! And even that concert was in support of getting dolphins and Orca whales out of Seaworld, out of the marine parks and back into the oceans. And a lot of these rock musicians have a sentimental bone for animals and wildlife, and Slash is no exception. So there I am as Survivorman, yet rocking out with Slash and Steve Stephens on the same stage. Wow, that’s awesome. So can people go on your site and see your schedule?

Stroud: Absolutely! has all of the stuff, and my Facebook and Twitter addresses are both Real Les Stroud. Thanks so much for your time, and keep Surviving!

Stroud: Thanks, all the best!

Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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