I was browsing through Amazon Prime’s movie list and came across Pioneer Quest. It’s an old documentary/reality show shot in Canada in 2000. The producers screened thousands of people who applied to live one year in the Canadian ‘wilderness’ as people would’ve lived in the 1870s. Two couples were chosen. If they could make it a year, each couple would receive $100,000 Can.
Pros and cons: They got off to a rocky start when one of the first couples chosen ended up being charged with sexual assault the day before they started shooting. I felt they did that couple a disservice by putting that information on national television. They should’ve just excused them and moved on to another couple. The charge had nothing to do with what they were trying to accomplish.
They eventually got another couple, the Treadways, but right from the start the new couple didn’t get along with the existing (younger) couple, the Logies. The younger couple wanted to stay true to the mission of living in the 1870s. The Treadways were a little more willing to bend the rules and accept help from outsiders.
I take nothing away from them. They endured horrific months of mosquitoes, ticks, and the worst aspects of each season. They had the coldest winter, the wettest spring, the driest summer…you get the picture. They suffered tremendously, but they stuck it out even while disliking each other.
According to the show’s producer, they chose couples that either had farming experience or hunted, but I feel they did a poor job preparing the couples. You can’t throw someone from the 21st century into the 1870s with only their 21st century knowledge on farming and hunting. At the very least, they should’ve given them a period book about farming, or given them some education before throwing them into the deep end.
On the other hand, these two couples scored low marks on frugality and animal husbandry. Throughout the series, their animals suffered from neglect or poor nutrition. The pregnant sow had to be shot when her pen caught fire and she was nearly burned alive.
The worst part though, is that instead of butchering it, and preserving the meat as much as possible, they buried it because they didn’t think they had enough salt to preserve it.
I get it. It was a traumatic experience. They were exhausted and depressed, but your personal problems play no part if you’re trying to eek a living in the wilderness. Nature will eat you alive and then swallow the bones had this been for real.
I would’ve had a ladder of poles set up over a fire and dried the meat, boiled down the fat for cooking oil, fried the skin-side fat into cracklings, and tanned the hide. I was so angry at the waste. That poor animal suffered for nothing.
Another time, one of them was tossing away the milk from the cow because they can’t drink it all. Had they had some education on 1870s living, they could’ve made butter or soft cheese. At the very least they could’ve fed the milk to the chickens. They had some starter plants with them too. Raw milk makes remarkable fertilizer.
There were other mistakes too like planting in soggy mud or trying to get unwilling animals into their pens. They were mad at the animals when it was entirely their fault for not planning ahead.
I’m not overly intelligent when it comes to farming. If mistakes were bricks, I could brick my entire house, and probably yours too. But I’ve found if you focus on the simplest components of a problem, you end up solving the bigger problem with a lot less grief.
Many pioneers died, some whose names we’ll never know, but they were the building blocks that made us who we are today. This is why I think it’s important not to forget the simple things. Not that you’ll have any reason to know how to butcher a pig, but your freezer might die on you one day and you could be left with hundreds of dollars worth of meat gone to rot for not knowing the most fundamental means to preserve it.
For the record this actually happened to us during Hurricane Rita, but the devastation was so tremendous we had to tackle bigger issues like restoring water and getting trees off the house. We had no outside help for 21 days.
Still, I learned a lot from the show. I realized just how much ‘stuff’ we have–a commentary of 21st century living. We don’t know how to be quiet either. Electronics, traffic, power tools, and overcrowding is constant, loud, and obnoxious.
The pioneers had none of that and I think the quiet is the one thing they missed most after the series was over. They did a final episode where they visited each couple back in the 21st century.
The show suffers from pacing, especially in the beginning but it does have better moments when they learned to plow with horses successfully and build their homes. The home building was especially well done. Tim Treadway was a contractor so he had some prior knowledge of construction.
If you’re interested in 19th century living, it’s got some interesting aspects to glean. For a better perspective, I’d recommend the British productions of Victorian Farm or Edwardian Farm that I mentioned in this post.
It’s been several weeks since we’ve seen Pioneer Quest but it stays on my mind. The producer wanted to create a social experiment but he failed on so many levels. For a true social experiment the series should’ve lasted at least three years and preferably four. By the time these pioneers got three-quarters of the year behind them they weren’t bothering with anything anymore since they knew their stint was nearly up. What was the point?
Would you ever consider applying for a job like this? I think Greg and I are too old now, but it would’ve been interesting to test our mettle back in our youth.
Have you ever seen Pioneer Quest? Are there any other shows like this you’d recommend? Have you ever lost a freezer full of food?