Shawn James, the renowned outdoorsman, photographer, freelance writer, and popular online content creator, captured the hearts of over two million subscribers with his YouTube channel “My Self Reliance.” Through his insightful videos, he shared his passion for outdoor living, and inspired many people in building a life without relying much on public utilities and commercial products. He aimed to educate everyone interested in sustaining themselves as independently as possible from external systems and resources. Recently, his loyal fans were worried that the idyllic world that Shawn built was threatened by the very thing that made it possible for him to flourish in the off-grid lifestyle, as it prompted him to re-calibrate his plans and move away.

Get to know Shawn James

The popular YouTuber developed a love for the outdoors at a young age. These early experiences ignited his passion for the wilderness and set the stage for his future endeavors.

His early years

Shawn James, born on 10 April 1970, in Newmarket, Ontario Canada, grew up in in a middle-class family. Living near farmland and a small forest, he spent his days exploring nature, building forts, and observing wildlife; it led to his fascination with snakes and kept them as pets. Family camping trips and fishing experiences at nearby Honey Harbour further nurtured his connection with nature.

At the age of 11, he was given a book entitled “Two Little Savages” by Ernest Thompson Seton, a story of two boys building shelters in the woods. It inspired him to dream of such an adventure, and sparked his fascination with self-reliant living. He and a friend started to construct their own outdoor shelter, and slept there during the winter season. Shawn’s adventurous spirit led him to participate in outdoor activities and embark on canoeing and kayaking trips during his teenage years. He was also into hockey, and at 12 years old, he had the opportunity to demonstrate an Eskimo roll on a kayak to hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky. At 15, Shawn and his friends went on a week-long canoeing trip from Six Mile Lake to Georgian Bay and another week-long trip on the French River in Canada the following year.

Working early to achieve a dream

His journey to self-reliance gained momentum when he read Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden” when he was a teen. The book’s philosophy of simple, solitary living resonated deeply with him, and he dedicated his life to achieving that dream. With determination and hard work, Shawn saved money from roofing and construction jobs, enabling him to purchase an island property at Whitestone Lake at the age of 17. He quit school and hand-built a small log cabin in the woods, where he resided for a few years, fully embracing a lifestyle focused on hunting, fishing, and connecting with nature. However, his parents reminded him that he needed to pay his real estate taxes so he went back to the city to work and so accomplish that requirement.

Became an entrepreneur

He took on odd jobs until he was introduced to the sheet metal industry, learned everything he could about it, and worked with his father in construction. For the next years eight years, he breathed and lived to work in sheet metal, even establishing his own commercial roofing sheet metal business, and acquired knowledge about structural engineering, waterproofing and general information about buildings. Shawn also had his own family. Life was pretty good, and he lived comfortably until the recession hit America in 2008.

His business failed

Shawn’s sheet metal business was thriving, and he became aggressive in buying properties. However, when the recession came, several industries were highly affected, including his company. He faced financial challenges that put him under an enormous debt, because he was the guarantor of all his business decisions and it personally hurt him a lot. He could easily blame the market, which was bad at that time due to the recession, but at the end of the day, he realized that he made the mistake of being too bold with his business ventures, having bought too many properties that he had no money left, which was a huge oversight on his part because, at that time, he already had two kids and a wife to think of.

An Outdoor Journey to Self-Reliance

Shawn James now knew that he wanted to get back to the simple life, craving the outdoors, and recalling how it felt when he built a log cabin with a friend without the use of power tools. He raised his kids camping so they knew their way around it, so the transition wasn’t that hard compared to others as it was innate in him to be in the wilderness.

Went back to the simple life and got rid of the non-essentials

Changing his lifestyle wasn’t a big deal – keeping things simple began with his love of sailing. At that time, he already owned power boats. but it wasn’t that way when he started, which was with a small cheap canoe, and then he transitioned to a 15-foot boat with a 15 horsepower motor on it. From there, he upgraded to 90 horsepower, and then a 35-foot boat with two 237 horsepower engines. As he was ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ so to speak, he lost his connection with the water, and part of the simplification process was to get rid of all those items. He wanted to get back to canoeing, fishing, and using hand tools to build a log cabin that he could call home. His ultimate goal was to set himself up in a natural place, where he always wanted to be.

Returning to outdoor living

When he saw the opportunity to move on from the busy life that he had in the city and simplify, he took it. Since he was in the construction business for eight years, he had enough knowledge and experience to build a homestead. This time around, he knew that if he wanted to avoid building codes and regulations when it came to the size of the structure and materials to use, he had to locate a good spot for an unorganized township, which in Canada refers to an area that doesn’t have any local administration, meaning they lacked any elected officials to implement municipal regulations and services provided by the government. Shawn found an area that was within a reasonable distance of major centers, and purchased a piece of land so that he could build a home there without following any building codes and zoning restrictions. However, it was in a great geographical location that his family could still access some of the things they liked in other areas if they craved them, or in an emergency occurred.

The reason for the transition

For those who hadn’t heard of Shawn, they initially thought he was anti-society but he wasn’t, as he was just more of a loner by nature. He truly believed that he should be as self-reliant as he could possibly be, saying that people should take it as their responsibility to ensure that they put fewer burdens on others and the environment. The more he learned how to better take care of himself, the more he was in a position to take care of others. This was the reason why he loved the social media and video-sharing app, YouTube, which he only found out about in 2013, but had realized its full potential by 2015. YouTube opened a lot of doors for people to discover the possibilities of what’s out there.

The birth of “My Self Reliance”

When he became a YouTuber, he never thought about it becoming a career option, just as a way to share his experiences. Initially, Shawn found it weird that a 49-year-old man like him would be filming himself working in the woods. He even felt that his daughters at that time thought it was strange too.

However, he found some videos of a guy named Larry Hyett sharing adventures in the great outdoors in Algonquin, and thought that was pretty cool; he was grateful for the things he learned from watching them. It inspired Shawn to do the same thing, and so he documented his trips with the perfect canoe that he found. Later on, he received gift certificates from a company that helped him to offset the cost that he paid for the materials he bought. He started to build an audience, and then found a way to monetize his channel that focused on his lifestyle. Shawn was surprised that so many people were interested in that topic, as it was his passion, so it was easy for him to pursue vlogging as a full-time career.

The first video in the “My Self Reliance” channel

Shawn was thankful that many subscribed to his channel, which made it possible for him to continue earning while sharing his experiences. He not only had money coming in, but also started receiving various items through sponsorship. His first video was uploaded in May 2015 entitled “Algonquin Park Solo 6-Day Canoe Camp Fishing Trip May 2015.” It was a planned canoe trip, and he specifically chose the date based on the historical ice-out dates in the park. His followers loved the sights and sounds that he captured while having this adventure, and it was a testament that even back then, Shawn was serious about his outdoor journey.

His breakout video

Shawn continued to document his experiences and share his knowledge in his channel hoping to capture a wider audience. His dream of building a community around self-reliant living started to come true, especially when in 2018, his close to 5-minute video went viral, attracting millions of views and media attention. This breakthrough milestone propelled Shawn to concentrate on documenting all his outdoor activities, and fully understand the use of social media apps. As of June 2023, this video garnered 17 million views with close to 12,000 comments. It was such a great marketing video in the sense that it made self-reliant living look easy, when it was really just a summary of too many hours and days of hard work building a log cabin alone.

Shawn’s Impact on the self-reliance community

With a subscriber base exceeding two million, Shawn has become a prominent figure in the outdoor and self-reliant community. Through his channel, he shares practical tips, wilderness adventures, and insights into sustainable living. While it initially entertained viewers, as most were quite curious about how people fare in living off the grid, it later on became educational and inspirational. The tutorials that he shared were easy to follow, teaching people what to do in their transition to a simplified life, such as the one he uploaded in September 2017 in which he taught viewers how to buy a property in Canada, and transform it into an off-grid homestead.

Furthermore, Shawn’s impact extended beyond his YouTube channel. His passion for advocating environmental issues reached a wider audience, as he used his platform to raise awareness about conservation and responsible outdoor practices. His dedication to living a balanced life, fostering meaningful relationships, and cherishing personal well-being resonates with his audience, and inspires them to pursue their own journey toward self-reliance. More and more people became aware of their options in life, and that living off-grid could also bring them contentment. His experiences encouraged them to try this simplified lifestyle, and become more family oriented.

Shawn and his family left their home in the woods

YouTube have been the second most visited online site in the world, next to its parent company Google. It’s the reason that content creators on YouTube earn huge profits that make vlogging a full-time profession. Unfortunately, while it provided a platform to entertain, educate, and inspire people, it could also easily ruin lives in many forms, by unscrupulous people. Certain safeguards were provided so that both the content provider and viewer could be protected, but in today’s world, every rule could be broken and every code could be deciphered.

An encroaching development around his land

In a video that gained over a million views uploaded in November 2020, Shawn James shared the heartbreaking reasons behind his decision to move from the home he had painstakingly built on his land with his own hands. The first reason he cited for his departure was the encroaching development around his 20-acre property. Over the years, thousands of acres surrounding his once tranquil sanctuary had been purchased by developers, signaling an inevitable change in his environment.

Harassment from a neighbor

It was the behavior of a particular neighbor, however, that ultimately pushed Shawn to make the difficult decision to leave. This neighbor, seemingly harboring animosity towards Shawn due to his YouTube channel, subjected him to a relentless campaign of harassment. The neighbor went as far as recording disturbing sounds and playing them back through loudspeakers, disrupting Shawn’s filming process and even his sleep. He said, ‘These people are targeting me specifically because of my YouTube channel. They were harassing me to the point that the police threatened them with criminal harassment.’

Vulgar online attacks against his daughters

The situation escalated further when the neighbor set up equipment across the road from Shawn’s driveway to monitor his movements and those of his family. The purpose of this surveillance remains unknown, as does the fate of the recorded footage. In a shocking turn of events, the equipment was later said to be stolen, with Shawn unjustly blamed for the incident. Furthermore, the neighbor launched online attacks aimed at turning viewers against Shawn, even resorting to threats. The tipping point came when the neighbors made vulgar comments about Shawn’s daughters, prompting his wife and daughters to vacate the cabin for their own safety.

Although the police intervened and issued warnings to the neighbor about criminal harassment, the damage had already been done. What was once a serene haven for Shawn, an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, had transformed into a battleground, leaving him with no choice but to leave.

A new homestead in a remote location

In December 2020, Shawn uploaded a video that showed him starting to plan the layout of his new homestead in a remote location, which he said he mentioned years ago; he was starting over again from scratch. The positive side of this was that he learned so much from his first homestead in the wilderness that he wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes, and the time that he spent building would be a lot shorter than his previous one.

Image source

The new place that he bought was about a 100-acre property located somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. While it was disheartening to witness the plight of a man who sought solace in a simple life and became the target of both online and real-life abuse, it was also a testament that people could move forward and be more successful in life after a horrifying experience. Instead of lamenting in sorrow or continuing to deal with sneaky and amoral people, Shawn and his family decided to choose their battles and embarked on a new chapter away from all the negativity that surrounded their previous homestead. Accompanied by his loyal dog, Cali, in building new log cabins, gardens, outhouses, and energy and water systems, Shawn continues to inspire others through his channel, showing that strength and resilience can overcome even the harshest of circumstances.

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As a Freelance Writer at Biography Pedia, I manage every aspect of our content creation, from rigorous research to narrative excellence, ensuring precision and integrity in our work. Our comprehensive editorial management includes deep investigation, narrative development, and maintaining high standards of quality.

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