Hailing from Canada, Dr André-François Bourbeau is professor emeritus at the University of Québec’s Chicoutimi campus where he was the founder of the Outdoor Research and Expertise Laboratory and co-founder and first director of the institution’s unique Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Adventure.
His main fields of research are wilderness survival and outdoor risk management, but he has also delved into outdoor nutrition and ways of the fur-trade era voyageurs. In these regards he has written three books and a doctoral thesis on wilderness survival, wrote the outdoor risk management reference manual for Québec’s outdoor industry, developed recipes, software and distribution systems for over a million expedition meals, and documented historical re-enactment trips in birchbark and spruce bark canoes. Through 50 years of teaching, conferences and media appearances, he has shared his passion of the wilderness with many.
By the young age of 30, Professor Bourbeau had already completed two bachelor degrees, a master’s degree and a doctorate, was an accomplished woodsman, magician, small plane pilot, chef cook, master canoeist, mechanic, karateka, cycling racer, environmental activist, and had travelled to remote parts of Africa, India and Central America to learn survival techniques from native folk. This combined experience led him to the decision, at the age of 31, to take his survival knowledge to the next level by conducting a 31-day scientific survival experiment in the intense black fly territory of a boggy boreal forest in near freezing temperatures without a knife, nor matches, nor insect protection, nor food or shelter. His resulting book Surviethon (french for Survivathon) which included the scientific analysis of the trip quickly became a Québec best-seller. Without him knowing it at the time, the event was noted in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Another significant event in his early years was a pre-internet 40 day birchbark canoe trip all in homemade period gear following the footsteps of surveyor Joseph-Laurent Normandin’s 1732 trip up the Ashuapmushuan river to the height of land. From hand-forged needles to hand-sewn underwear, the trip took two years of meticulous preparation to maximize authenticity. He and his three accomplices thus immersed themselves in the voyageur era to gain insights in the ways of the coureur des bois.
As yet another example, of Dr Bourbeau’s love of wilderness travel and to pursue his understanding of old ways, he enjoyed traditional winter camping trips with his own dog sled team for 14 years, sewing his own dog harnesses and prospector tent, also building sleds to experiment in-line or fan-shaped pulls.
For professor Bourbeau, life has been a continuous series of such learning experiences, many of which he created by putting himself voluntarily into predicaments or by challenging himself to solve problems. In this way he discovered many original techniques, for example his unique method to make a functional raft by building it upside-down into a round shape which can be flipped into the water, the raft-a-maran.
Dr Bourbeau is also a Leave No-Trace master instructor and helped promote wilderness ethics throughout French Canada.
Since retirement, the adventure-seeking professor has pursued his learning and teaching path. He recently starred in a Québec television series called Expedition Extrême, where he presented many of his techniques. He built his own country home including a masonry heater, travelled by canoe 800 miles through the Northwest Territories to the arctic ocean where he found Stevenson’s cabin, did a round-the-world trip to hike in 14 countries, designed the Gorfnik sailboat to cross the Florida Everglades, thru-hiked the Alabama Pinhoti trail, and built another sailboat with his design ideas in which he is currently navigating the Cree territory in northern Québec.
Some of Professor Bourbeau’s quotes provide further insight into his thinking about experience and education…
“The worst risk of all is to take no risks at all”. If you don’t take chances in life you are already dead in spirit.
“Don’t let university interfere with your education”. As a student you are responsible for your own learning path, it isn’t enough to just fulfil minimum requirements to obtain grades and diplomas.
Professor Bourbeau feels that there is a logical path from studying wilderness survival to caring about survival of the wilderness to wondering about the survival of humanity, his latest passion and concern. He believes that principles of wilderness survival, such as the SERA decision-making model he developed with his university colleagues, might help assure the survival of mankind in today’s crazy world.
To us Dr André-François Bourbeau is the epitome of life-long learning and we are really looking forward to his keynote address on this subject, the theme of the 2022 Global Bushcraft Symposium. Based on his entertaining presentation at the 2019 event, we are surely in for a treat.