Survivalist Bruce Beach has been building and maintaining North America’s largest private nuclear bunker for the last 37 years.
Ark Two, built underground near the village of Horning’s Mills, Canada, is currently the largest nuclear bunker in North America. The bunker, made from 42 old school buses with concrete poured over them for reinforcement, is 10,000 square feet, and can apparently hold up to five hundred people. According to Beach, it’s “virtually impenetrable to anything short of a direct nuclear strike.”
And, although many see Beach as a “kook,” his shelter has garnered international attention in light of recent nuclear tensions.
The belligerence between America and North Korea has pushed the Atomic Doomsday clock, a timepiece that measures the likelihood of nuclear catastrophe, closer to midnight. This is the closest it has come to that since 1953.
“Most people don’t think I’ll ever need this shelter,” Beach recently told CTV News. “There’s a difference of opinion about that, but it’s looking more and more like it’s going to happen.”
“The first four buses for Ark Two were put in place in 1980, now three decades ago, and the last of the 42 buses were buried in 1985. Because of my publicizing the need for the shelter (which people started calling Ark Two) I was called a ‘Doomsayer’, but I am not a doomsayer because I am very optimistic about the future, so I took the handle ‘DawnSayer’” – Bruce Beach, History of the Ark Two.
Beach first started thinking about nuclear survivalism at the height of the Cold War, when he worked as a control tower operator for the U.S. Air Force. He moved from Chicago to rural Canada in 1970, believing it would be safer in the event of a nuclear war. Ten years later, he began building his shelter under the family property of his wife, Jean.
Beach started excavating the property in 1980, digging the foundations deep enough that he could bury the shelter under 14 feet of earth. He bought old school buses for $300 each, because the steel roofs made for sturdy shelters, and poured concrete around them for the structure. The shell of the shelter was finished by 1985, and Beach has been improving and maintaining it for 35 years since.
“When you go inside the bunker for the first time, it is a different planet, it’s like you’re on Mars. When you hear about this concept of 42 school buses underground, to fathom it is nothing compared to going in and actually seeing it…It’s crazy in there.” – Che Bodhi, event organizer for the Ontario Prepper Survival Network (OPSN)
The thing that amazes visitors to the 10,000 sq foot shelter is how big it is. According to Beach, the shelter features “all the comforts of home,” including two industrial kitchens, washrooms with running water, a dental room, classrooms for children, and sex-segregated bunks with “cubicles” for people to keep their things. The shelter also features a decontamination room, the first room that a visitor would enter, that’s meant to eliminate the spread of disease and radiation in the shelter.
Although much of the technology is older, Ark Two is equipped to be self-sufficient for several months after a hypothetical nuclear blast. The property has full plumbing (including a private well), diesel generators and three months of fuel, and a radio communication center that can broadcast survival information throughout Canada and the United States.
The facility has suffered vandalism many times over the years, and Beach has had to replace thousands of dollars in destroyed or stolen equipment. Beach sees many of these acts as a “favor,” as they have nudged him to upgrade security and amenities, but is still frustrated at the lack of law enforcement action: “The vandals around here, even if caught – are not punished.”
“The Ark Two SAFE (Safe America For Everyone) Community is the largest pluralistic survival community in North America without any political, religious, or cultural bias. Its purpose is to ameliorate the catastrophe of a nuclear war or other world-wide cataclysmic catastrophe and to help restore civilization.” – Ark Two Community Website.
Unlike many other “preppers,” Beach is concerned with more than personal or familial survival; he hopes to be able to help “reconstruct” the world after a hypothetical catastrophe. To that end, he has developed the ‘SAFE Community’, a network of like-minded people who work together to maintain the bunker.
In the event of a catastrophe, Beach says that people will be welcome in Ark Two “regardless of religion, race, nationality, political views…” The only precondition for entry is “sweat equity,” helping around the bunker with routine maintenance or renovations. “We’ve always said anyone is welcome if they’ll come and participate ahead of time,” Beach explains on the community’s website.
Currently, the doomsday guest list consists of 50 “semi-regulars,” or people who have come back to help out around the site several times. Most people who visit are one-time-only attendees, interested more in learning about the site than in joining the community. The admission price is work around the bunker; Beach often asks guests to help out by chopping or carrying wood.
Beach also has a website that teaches interested “preppers” outside of North America how to build their own “Local Economy Recovery Networks” after an apocalyptic event. The free course on his website teaches people the necessary skills for rebuilding their community after “a world cataclysmic event.”
“The biggest problems in building a shelter are political and bureaucratic. The project has not been favorably received by the local and provincial governments. There is a psychology against shelters and the general opinion is that anyone who builds one is crazy.” – Bruce Beach, Ark Two Website.
While Bruce’s ultimate enemy is a nuclear catastrophe, his more immediate enemy has been the government. Officials from all branches of local government, from the fire department to the environmental department, have been unenthusiastic about the project. Beach built his shelter without a permit, as he believed that having it was a matter of “life and death.”
Beach claims that the local government has taken him to court more than thirty times and that it has spent “over $250,000 dollars” attempting to get his shelter shut down. He also says that there have been “three big raids (ones with 11 vehicles and forty personnel)” and “many, many smaller raids.”
The fire department in nearby Shelburne has been a particularly staunch opponent of Ark Two, sealing the shelter twice, citing safety concerns. Tensions were particularly high ahead of the 2015 Annual Preppers’ Meet when the group of Canadian survivalists met on Beach’s property. The fire department threatened to have the bunker sealed a third time, on the strength of a court document issued 15 years previously. At the time, Beach fired back, “I’ll take whatever it takes to knock the weld back off,” even if it meant being arrested.
While the fire department has not sealed the shelter again, they believe that the shelter is unsafe, and have refused to send firefighters down if there is a fire. “It is a life safety situation,” said Shelburne Coun. Tom Egan, chair of the fire board. “We aren’t going to risk the life of one of our firefighters. … It is just not safe.”
“The general public views the project as being operated by an eccentric (in the most favorable terms) or by a nut-case in what is the more usual expressed attitude. For the fifty years in which I have built over two dozen shelters and have consulted on many dozens of others, the general ridicule has been extensive, to say the least. “Why do it then?”, I have often been asked. Why not get a life, enjoy life and quit worrying about doomsday? The answer is that I don’t see the purpose of life, nor happiness in life measured in how many rounds of golf I might play, but rather in service to my fellow man.” – Bruce Beach, Ark Two Website.
Even while emphasizing the importance of his project, Beach admits that it has taken a personal toll. According to Beach, he faces suspicion and hostility from many in the neighborhood. After some of his governmental opponents accused him of being “crazy,” Beach had himself psychiatrically examined to “head [the rumors] off at the pass.”
His interest has also raised difficulties for his family. In recent months, their complex has suffered fires, floods, vandalism, and rat infestations. According to Beach, his adult children are tired of hearing about his apocalyptic interests, and the pressure can “wear on” 90-year-old wife Jean. Still, their decades-long marriage remains strong.
Beach understands why others see his passion the way they d0, but he remains dedicated to it. He believes that it’s his mission, his way of contributing to society. “If it isn’t for another 20 years from now I’m going to be way over 100 so it’s not probably a problem for me personally. I don’t ever consider it a personal problem. We all depart this life. The idea is for the reconstruction of society.”
When National Post reporters visiting the complex recently asked why she fell in love with her husband, she responded with a laugh. “I almost married another guy but my Dad broke it up, and I am glad he did. Bruce takes care of me — and I take care of him.”