The wispy-bearded inventor spent half of his life preparing to be a post-apocalyptic Noah from his home in Horning’s Mills, a tiny community outside Orangeville, Ont.
He buried 42 school buses in the 1980s and linked them together into the world’s largest private fallout shelter, the Ark Two. Then he recruited friends, family and fellow survivalists to his cause, assembled plans for restarting society after the nukes hit and began developing a universal language that would supposedly unite humanity through a common tongue.
He did all this under the assumption that the world would end soon, and that he’d be around to start a new one.
But Bruce Beach’s life came to an end before the world did, after he suffered a heart attack at age 87. Beach died on May 10, leaving behind an ailing wife, five grown children, a massive bunker, some half-finished plans for a new world and no instructions for how to carry on without him.
Now his family, friends and followers are facing a cataclysmic question of their own: What next? Will someone continue Beach’s mission up to and beyond an uncertain Doomsday — or will the Ark Two be buried with its Noah?
The Noah of Ark Two
Beach was well-known on news and exploratory shows as the “bunker guy,” the eccentric Doomsday prepper who dedicated his life to an apocalyptic conspiracy theory.
But those who knew him say that portrayal falls well short of the man himself. They say Beach was an independent thinker, a humanitarian and a big dreamer who made one of his biggest dreams – the bunker – into a reality.
“This guy has lived an incredible life, and the bomb shelter is just one chapter,” said filmmaker Paul Kell, who spent eight years shooting a documentary about Beach. “He was the world’s most successful, most grandiose failure imaginable.”
Beach dabbled in apocalyptic, libertarian and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but he was also a generous man who would open his home and his bunker to anyone, as long as they were willing to put in the work.
“He wouldn’t take money from you per se, but … if you want his time, you have to give your time,” said Bahia Eldner, Beach’s eldest daughter from his second marriage.
Beach would often ask people to chop logs for his wood stove before letting them into the Ark. Curious visitors and the occasional journalist would pay that price just to get a look at the structure, while true believers would offer more of their time just to be part of Beach’s grander project.
“People could always come and have a meal, and people were always working on the shelter,” Eldner said.
“He had a mission to serve and to make things better and rebuild,” said Adam Himer, a 30-year-old engineer who helped Beach at the bunker for a decade.
Himer says the bunker was a “symbol” of Beach’s ambitions, because he built it to save hundreds of people – not solely his own family. It was that “humanitarian” trait that attracted many others to his cause, according to Antonia Lau, a proclaimed psychic and prominent member of Beach’s wide-reaching bunker community.
“What I loved most about him is he inspired many more to care for others, not just your family,” Lau said.
She has since taken over his long-running prepper newsletter, which goes out to roughly 2,000 people around the world.
Beach would rankle friends and local officials with his stubborn dedication to the bunker, but he also earned their respect.
“He was a pretty forward thinker … a great negotiator, a great barterer,” said Melancthon Township Mayor Darren White, whose community includes Horning’s Mills. “It’s a loss for the community, for someone with so much character and so much local colour to be gone.”
In the beginning
Beach was best-known for the end-of-days bunker that he built and maintained on his property, but his story began far away and long ago, before the bomb shelter and fears of nuclear war.
Beach was born in 1934 in Kansas, where he grew up a proud outsider, according to the obituary that Kell wrote. He faked his way into the U.S. Air Force at age 17 and studied radio, computers, economics and philosophy in his late teens and early 20s. He married his first wife, Maxine, in the 1950s and worked as a teacher and fallout shelter salesman around that time. The couple had four children together, though one died in infancy.
Read more: Inside a decommissioned nuclear missile silo
Beach and Maxine divorced in 1961 and he later converted to the Baha’i Faith after a major scooter accident left him unable to do anything but read for several months. He recovered and met his future second wife, Jean, at a Baha’i temple in Illinois in 1962, and the two were soon married. They ultimately had three children together, though one died in a sledding mishap at the age of eight.
The couple eventually moved to Canada to live on Jean’s family property in Horning’s Mills. He taught computer science for several years, developed a laptop-like device called the Lightwriter in the early 1970s and then started hatching plans for the bunker and universal language in the latter half of that decade, as his Cold War-inspired fears of nuclear war took hold.
Beach also secured a roughly $50-million tax credit from the Canadian government in the late ‘70s, according to Kell, which he would use to buy and retrofit an old ferry for deep-sea exploration. Beach dubbed the venture the Canada’s Tomorrow Discovery Corporation, and he planned to find sunken treasure that would fund his plans for a universal auxiliary language – an idea that he chased for most of his life.
Eventually, the deep-sea exploration project collapsed, the revamped ferry was stripped down and Beach lost nearly everything. All he had left was Jean’s property in Ontario and the first few pieces of the Ark Two.
The bunker is born
Beach spent about six years buying up school buses, stripping them down and then burying them at the site of the Ark Two, beginning in 1979.
He tried to outfit the bunker for a few hundred people – most of them children – to survive a potential nuclear war, but it was always a work in progress. The shelter was prone to leaks and breakdowns, making it a constant project for Beach and his allies. He spent much of his time trying to keep it semi-functional, and he would often enlist others to help maintain it.
“Bruce’s vision of the Ark was for it to be a refuge for people to go when there is a nuclear war,” said Kell. “He envisioned it as an orphanage that would be populated mostly with children, so they would be the future after nuclear war.”
It’s unclear how exactly Beach paid for the bunker, though Kell suggests it was largely through what he paid himself during the ferry operation. Himer suspects that Beach got “a big kick-start” early on, and that he used bartering to take care of smaller needs as the years wore on.
Global News has not been able to determine the exact cost of the bunker’s construction.
The bunker was never fully operational, but the site became a hub for Beach and those who followed him. People would show up to work on the bunker on a regular basis, and in recent decades, Beach would hold prepper gatherings with hundreds of supporters on the property every summer.
He also frequently battled with local politicians and firefighters over the site amid concerns that the bunker was not safe for use because it was not built to provincial code.
“The township’s position was that you can use the property but people cannot be in the bunker,” Melancthon Mayor White said. “That generally didn’t stop Bruce from having people in the bunker.”
The matter caused a lot of strife in the early 2000s, when the local fire chief said his crews would not respond to calls at the site.
“The fire chief of the day would go out there and weld it shut,” White said. “And he wasn’t even out the driveway when Bruce would be up there cutting the weld off.”
This “peaceful standoff” carried on for many years, until White eventually visited the site during one of Beach’s prepper events in 2015. White did not go into the bunker, but he did leave with a decision to include the structure in the fire department’s coverage.
“I’m the mayor. I represent everybody, regardless of if we’ve had an issue before,” he said.
A universal language
Despite all of his work on the elaborate bunker and his hope to have a cohort of people survive nuclear war, Beach’s ambitions went well beyond that, according to those who knew him best.
“The universal language was actually his dream,” Eldner said.
“Everything else kind of dovetails into that,” said Kell. “There were many other projects that he used to raise money for the auxiliary language… which he felt was the linchpin to unifying the world.”
Kell says Beach left behind little more than a blueprint for the language, which would be called “Angel Tongue” or “Anjel Tung.” It was a stripped-down, phonetic form of English that would be easy for people to learn, and he hoped it would bridge the gap between various groups after an apocalypse.
Kell includes a few sentences from that language in his documentary, The Dawnsayer, which is due out later this year.
“Der PEPuL uv hu WrLD, waT Yk aR REDin iZ hu ANJel Tun,” the sample reads, in part.
Translation: “Dear people of the world, what you are reading is the Angel Tongue.”
Beach wrote at length about the language on his personal website, but he never fully laid out how it would work in a post-apocalyptic world — or why English should be the model for it.
“The universal language was actually his dream.”
Kell says the language never came together because Beach simply ran out of money and support.
“When you dream as big as Bruce and you’re one man with almost no resources and very limited help, it’s almost impossible to ever realize those dreams,” he said. “Bruce would’ve needed to live to 120 to accomplish everything that he had planned out.”
The end times
Adam Himer says Beach did not plan for his death because he thought he’d outlive an imminent catastrophe. That means his friends and family can now only guess at his intentions for the bunker, the language and everything else he had in mind.
“He was convinced (the apocalypse) was going to happen in his lifetime, and he would be there for reconstruction,” Himer said.
Beach’s daughter says she and her siblings are taking their time with the leftovers of their father’s life, and they’ll likely assemble a committee to divide up the most interesting projects. But for now, there is no obvious heir to the bunker.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with the shelter now?” Eldner said.
Beach’s followers continued to help with his projects until death, and some are eager to keep it going into the future, if the family decides to keep the bunker running.
Beach’s longtime confidante, Antonia Lau, says she’s taken over the newsletter that he ran for many years. She also ran a GoFundMe campaign for Beach’s widow to cover the costs of his funeral and a new wood stove for their home. As for the bunker, its fate is not her decision to make.
She hopes the bunker will stay with Beach’s family, although she acknowledges that it needs a lot of work.
“I’m not sure whether the family wants to put that time in,” she said. “It needs repair.”
Mayor White says he’s in no rush to swoop in and shutter the Ark now that Beach is gone.
“We have no intention of making unilateral orders at this point,” he said. He added that the bunker would likely make it hard for the Beaches to sell their property, and it would be a “fairly significant” project to dig up or close off.
“We’ll work with the family,” he said.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with the shelter now?”
Lau says she’s not sure what will happen to the Ark Two, but she suspects the family will hang onto the land because that’s where Bruce Beach now lies.
“He was buried on the site near the Ark, next to his son that passed before,” she said.
Beach’s followers say he would have wanted the Ark project to carry on beyond his death, because it was never about sparing one man from the apocalypse.
It was about sparing everyone he now leaves behind.
Zed Files is a Global News exclusive series exploring unusual, unexplained and legendary stories in Canada.