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District man living off the land


For 14 years, Doug Pearson has had five days off a week. He lives in a house he built himself, with a basement he dug by hand. He grounds his own wheat, and travels everywhere by bike.

“It’s kind of like the back to the earth movement from the ’50s and ’60s. I’m left over from that,” he said.

In 1986, Pearson had a construction job at the mill. Over five months, he earned $10,000 and immediately set out to buy a plot of land.

“I would of bought anything at the time,” he said.

What he ended up with was a 40-acre plot on Highway 602 (River Road) about halfway between Fort Frances and Emo, which has been his home ever since.

His innovative designs—built out of salvaged material and wood from his property—are hidden in nooks and crannies around his small home.

In one corner, there’s something that looks like an exercise bike made out of plywood and bicycle parts, which is Pearson’s wheat grinder. He grinds the wheat as required for bread, and one bag will last him six months.

Lying in his bed, Pearson reached up and pulled down a portable television attached to a board. The screen is smaller than Gameboy’s, and the sound is picked up by a separate radio on his window sill. The only channel he gets is CBC.

These are the only electric items in his house—and both are powered by a small solar panel.

In his basement, Pearson has designed a water-filtering system that purifies the water from his 15-foot, hand-dug well. With a hand-crank, he pumps the water up to a sink on his two-room main floor.

His manual laundry machine is hidden beneath the kitchen table. The house is so small a bathtub seems unimaginable but beneath the kitchen chair, extending behind the doorway, there it is—sitting under a gravity-propelled shower.

“I try to make it as easy as I possibly can. I don’t like doing chores,” said Pearson.

For a guy who doesn’t like doing chores, Pearson has some big projects to take on. He will build a new chicken coop this summer, and is building a wooden sidewalk from his house to his driveway for visitors.

His fencing is an ongoing project as he’s constantly replacing and extending the five acres of unique, hand-made fence running throughout his property—one of the most eye-catching sights as you drive by.

He began building the fence after his pigs caused traffic problems and dug up the neighbour’s garden.

“I learned the hard way about fencing. You have to build it horse high, bull strong, and pig tight,” he remarked.

All his animals have free range. He dislikes the small pens that many modern farms use today so his pigs have their large five-acre pen, and his chickens and ducks roam freely all over the property.

“Mine are on the highway half the time,” he laughed.

He keeps his livestock for food but grows fond of them as he raises them, making it difficult when the time comes to kill them for a meal.

“I always have anxiety the day before,” he said, pointing to his stomach.

Pearson lives a very inexpensive lifestyle. His house is lined with two sets of Encyclopedias that he bought for $1 a set at the library. He gets potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables from the neighbouring farms and plants tomatoes in his garden.

He raises pigs, chickens, and ducks, and cooks his own food—even baking bread—on a small wood stove.

“It’s very economical living,” he said.

His main expenses are his taxes, which just increased after he rebuilt his house over the new basement.

During the summer, Europeans—friends and relatives of neighbouring farmers—come by to visit Pearson’s home.

“You could never do this in Europe,” said Pearson. “You can’t live like this in southern Ontario.”

He is becoming a bit of a tourist attraction, and seems to enjoy the company. He keeps his driveway shovelled even though his only vehicle is a bicycle.

Pearson spends Fridays working for one neighbouring farm, and Saturdays working for a second farmer, but for the most part, he sets his own schedule and if it’s too cold, he just stays home.

Most of his time is spent working on his property

“I don’t like to spend too much time working for one person because they could get to bossy. I’ve got five days off a week but I’ve got a million things to do,” said Pearson.

Pearson grew up in Mine Centre and said he used to spend weekends frequenting bars. Now he only leaves his property to bike to the neighbouring farms, and every four months he catches a ride to Safeway

“I live like a hermit. I’m not in the rat race, I might be below it, I might be over it, but I’m not in the rat race,” he reasoned.

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