“When I first moved up here, people had thought I’d lost my mind,” Steve Durand said incredulously. “This whole off-grid, cabin culture movement was still in its infancy and I don’t think many people understood what I was trying to do.”
Durand is the owner of and visionary behind LeTerrain and as it turns out, he hadn’t lost his mind after all. With the stated mission of “protecting wilderness by sharing it” LeTerrain is a nature stewardship project that transcends convention. Made up of 430 acres of pristine woodlands deep in the Pontiac wilderness, LeTerrain is a private wilderness sanctuary that seeks to offer an alternative to the traditional provincial or federal approach to land management and protection.
Durand was at one time a practicing professional musician. Songwriting, performing and producing music throughout Montreal and Hudson, New York, Durand had made a thriving career for himself in the arts. Someone whose zeal for life is palpable from the first time you meet them, Durand has possessed a rich assortment of hobbies since his youth. A vigor for dirt biking, hiking, BMXing and snowboarding prompted him to move to the Val-de-Monts region in his late 20s. Here he spent seven years living in a rented lakeside property by himself.
It was this experience that cultivated what was to come. Fostering an impassioned affinity with the natural world, Durant knew that he wanted to live amongst it. Relishing the simple pleasure of roaming unobstructed in the midst of nature, Durant recognized that it was amidst the wilderness that he belonged. This epiphany resulted in Durant searching for a tract of land where he could live out his off-grid, sustainable calling.
“In 2015 I came upon this property and fell in love with it,” Steve said. “I was living here a month later.”
The land that makes up LeTerrain is representative of the Ladysmith region in which it resides, and yet fully unique at the same time. Dense mixed forests blanket craggy terrain. Wolfpacks roam unimpeded by human encroachment. Meandering creeks flow patently into untouched wetlands. Owls sit upon tree branches and hoot as eagles soar effortlessly above. Towering peaks overlook the landscape, offering panoramic views of the vast sea of wilderness that envelops LeTerrain.
Durand readily admits that living amongst such expansive wilderness was at first an adjustment. While the first year was novel and exciting, the realities of isolated, off-grid life quickly set in. Living alone amongst such a vast wilderness, with only the company of his dog Inook, Durand experienced the totality of solitary life.
“Year two, three, four – it was just so hard,” Durand said reflectively. “So isolated and physically demanding. I didn’t have the internet or cell phone service. There’s being alone, and then there’s being disconnected. I essentially had no contact with anyone. So there were some very, very tough years where I didn’t think I could make it.”
Nevertheless, Durand stuck it out. In a sort of trial by fire, Durand familiarized himself with solar power, 12-volt systems, woodfire heating and all the necessary skills of off grid-living and gradually became more comfortable with the isolation. Through his explorations amidst it, he further connected with the land and found solace in its company.
As his outlook improved, an idea entered his mind. What if the best way to protect this land was to share it? Having always wanted to first and foremost safeguard its wilderness, what if he could invite others of like-mindedness to take part in his stewardship project? With three off-grid cabins nestled throughout his expansive property and a large trail network ideal for hiking, snowshoeing, biking and really whatever else, Durand decided to list his cabins on Airbnb. They were an immediate hit. Searching for offgrid experiences of their own, people jumped at the opportunity to experience wilderness unsullied by human disruption. With this rush of interest, LeTerrain was born.
“Everything started to kind of come together. I wasn’t so alone, I wasn’t so poor and things weren’t so hard,” Durand said with visible relief on his face. “I felt like I was on the upswing of a blossoming movement rather than people thinking I went crazy and moved to the bush to be a hermit.”
LeTerrain would exist in this capacity for a number of years. Durand would facilitate an off-grid experience for those seeking one and would use the earned money to steward the land. While this model was undoubtedly a success, Durand began conceiving of ways to take LeTerrain to the next level.
With a desire to make LeTerrain more than an Airbnb, short term rental venue, the wheels of Durands imagination began turning. Possessing a vast stretch of land blessed with an extensive trail network, world class stargazing and a healthy, diverse ecosystem, Durand envisioned a wholly unique endeavor that would offer an alternative to the undoubtedly important, yet often overcrowded and over-bureaucratized provincial and federal parks.
Rather than rent out cabins, Durand would make LeTerrain an access-by-membership model. For a fee, a limited number of members would be empowered to use LeTerrain at their leisure, whilst also ensuring it would always be protected. Bypassing the supposed need for government regulation, LeTerrain would become a communal, grassroots stewardship project that invited members to enjoy the wilderness they were collectively protecting. This new framework will be launching shortly.
“The idea is to have a group of people that I can get to know and are really invested in the wilderness and to be a custodian like I am,” Durand said. “I don’t feel like I own this. I’m just a custodian, I invite people here and anyone that comes here should have that same kind of feeling of wanting to protect.”
When push comes to shove, Durand’s primary concern is the protection of a landscape he has come to deeply connect with. What started out as a solo enterprise to live more sustainably and in tune with the natural world has morphed into a new approach to wilderness stewardship.
“Not everyone’s just gonna go out off trail,” Durand said “Not everyone’s just gonna go to crown land and explore. So they need to be invited to a place with trails and a map and somewhere they feel safe.”
To learn more about LeTerrain, you can visit their website at www.leterrain.land or their Instagram @theland.
written by Connor Lalande