Joe McCumber, right, of the United Survivalist Network of Ontario. Photo via USNO.
Three years ago, Joe McCumber founded the United Survivalist Network of Ontario to, in his words, give his family “a chance to survive what may happen in the near future.” The group has since mushroomed into 329 members. McCumber holds meetings thrice weekly to impart his knowledge of survival in dire circumstances, covering everything from hand-to-hand combat to foraging to orienteering. He teaches skills for survival in Mad Max situations. Toronto Standard caught up with McCumber yesterday.
How did you become a Survivalist?
Basically my whole family are hunters, fishermen, woodsmen. I’ve been in the woods since I could walk. My dad had me fishing, hunting, out in nature — he passed it on to me. I fell in love with it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What aspect of teaching your skills to others appeals to you most?
I’d hear about too many people getting lost in the wilderness or getting attacked somewhere. I just feel that in this country, nobody should die of thirst or hunger when there’s so much out here to eat and drink. I basically just pass on the five key points of survival: food, water, shelter, fire and security.
Why is Survivalism popular now?
I think there’s a lot of media hype. We had the millennium bug, then we had the Mayan Apocalypse 2012, now we have the 2013 solar flares. There’s a zillion reasons why people want to get back to doing this type of thing. Far too many to list. To sum it up, it’s more that people want to be self-sufficient. People want to take care of themselves and take care of their loved ones.
Have you ever been in a situation where your survival skills have saved you?
I’ve been lost out in the wilderness a couple times — got turned around. I was able to build shelters, make my fire, make myself comfortable, and almost made it a liveable camping trip! It worked out good in the end. I also teach urban survival — how to survive in the city.
How does the training for urban survival differ?
We put in a little bit of martial arts with that too. We give people the basics to defend themselves against muggers, sexual predators — whatever you want to call them. We also forage for plants. I teach people some very basic food plants, very basic medicine plants. I cover all the general stuff. Also, there’s fish here in the city. I also teach a variety of small mammal traps. You can get squirrels, pigeons — there’s lots of feral cats kicking around. In that type of situation, there’s a lot of food here. I also cover archery, I cover firearms in a limited capacity for hunting or whatnot.
I see you have an ‘evasion’ workshop. What does that entail?
Say you’re in a park, and you’re being chased. What this does is allow you to experience somebody chasing you, and you being able to hide from them. Far too often people will try to outrun multiple attackers. They’ll hide somewhere and keep popping their head up to see where they are, and all of a sudden they’re surrounded because that movement is what attracts their attacker’s attention.
If you were stuck in the bush and could only have two tools, what would they be?
It would definitely be a knife, because with a knife I can make anything else I need. And a flint for starting fires.
What about in the city?
Do you have a stockpile?
Do I have preparations? I have about a years worth of food set aside. I have a departure plan should the city go to chaos.
Does that mean heading to the bush?
For me it would. Along with my small army. I’ve got a lot of kids.
Have you done strategic exercises in terms of protecting your own home?
Since my kids could walk I’ve trained them in martial arts. I do all my own martial arts training with my kids. My kids are pretty proficient with stick fighting, that sort of stuff. They can take care of themselves. Plus we have a few big German Shepherds.
Where should people start if they’re interested.
I would tell them to attend our Sunday meetings through the United Survivalist Network of Ontario (USNO). Our Sunday meetings are strictly core skills. Things like fire-starting, traps, finding food and water. And then if they want to progress further, Tuesdays I run a hand-to-hand combat class and on Thursdays I run a weapons class. For hand-to-hand combat, with sticks, how to defend yourself if there’s a guy with a gun, something like that.
Do you think being a survivalist betrays an inherent pessimism about the future?
I don’t know how to answer that. I know for myself, I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than this. It’s been a part of my nature since my dad got me hooked on it before I could walk. He had a lot of skills and he passed them on, I passed them on to my kids and people started coming around watching us. I thought, you know what? Can we do this? And then we started this group. We get people from all walks of life, from all ages, and for all different reasons. We get people that are so scared of what’s going to happen in the future that they come out every week. We’ve had people come out that have had stuff happen to them in the past – that don’t ever want to be in that situation again – so they come out here. We give those people a place to go, three times a week.
Check out the United Survivalist Network of Ontario.