Why I Live Here

Lovely winter weather. (Photo: Chronicle Herald)

Lovely winter weather. (Photo: Chronicle Herald)

The place I live. It has a lot NOT going for it. I can only recommend the weather two months a year. The area is economically depressed. It’s isolated. The nearest big cities are Montreal and Boston – each at least a 12-hour car trip. So why do I live here?

In my mind, I loosely categorize us Nova Scotians:

  1. Chose to be here
  2. Ended up here
  3. Always been here
  4. Been away and came back

This is different from the usual division: many of us say you’re either from here, or you’re a CFA (Come from Away)! People who move here don’t realize that CFA is a permanent status 🙂

Sea kayaking for the braver than me (Photo: novascotia.com)

Sea kayaking for the braver than me (Photo: novascotia.com)

Chose to Be Here

We get visitors for the natural beauty: ocean beaches, scenic inlets, cliffs towering over the sea, forests and lakes; and for the history: quaint villages, homes and gardens, bridges and boats. I suppose we nab a few settlers who visit and then decide to stay because it’s pretty or quaint or off the beaten path. Some stay for the outdoor lifestyle: surfing, kayaking, fishing, snowshoeing.

I know a few people who have chosen to live here for retirement, finding it has a nice mix of amenities: it has city life, but not a mad rush, and you can literally get away to the ocean or the woods in minutes. There is a feeling it has “just enough” city life without most of the hassles.

Ended Up Here

Despite the economic difficulties, Halifax is the biggest city for 1000 km in any direction. It’s the regional centre of government and commerce, and lots of people end up here for work. If someone started off in a smaller spot like Gander or Canso or Summerside, then Halifax is the big city, or maybe a place to acclimate before moving on to a larger centre. Coming from a small town, Halifax might be the first taste of downtown, night life, street festivals, and traffic.

A  century ago, family-built homes looked like this (Photo: virtualmuseum.ca)

A century ago, family-built homes looked like this (Photo: virtualmuseum.ca)

Always Been Here

As many of you know, I was born here. One of my parents was born here; the other nearby in New Brunswick. Both of them have families with long, long histories in the area. But all the families here know their kids will move away to find work. My parents and grandparents are some who stayed. It wasn’t that their local job opportunities were better, but they were able to make a living.

In some families, there is a tipping point – they are forced to leave because of job loss, ill health, or a personal tragedy. In modern times, older parents might follow their children to a new city. Somehow my parents and grandparents stayed the course, and never felt they had to leave. Or rather, they might have done better economically elsewhere, but chose not to.

Been Away and Came Back

The young ones always went “Out West,” first to Ontario for manufacturing jobs, then to Alberta for jobs in the oil fields. When I finished school, I took a library job Out West in Saskatchewan, intending to get experience and work my way back after two years. We all say that, don’t we?

Instead I came back 15 years, 4 jobs and 1 child later. My situation was unusual. I left Saskatoon to follow my ex when his job moved, twice. We were left in the US, without status, when he died. Although I had a work permit, renewable annually, my child could never get one, so we had to return to Canada. It was just a choice of sooner or later. We could have chosen to live anywhere in Canada when we came back. I could have applied for jobs across the country and ended up wherever. But I chose to live near family, and let the job follow. I started with a contract position, and it took me 3 years to obtain a permanent job with the same salary I made before. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small concession.

It should come as no surprise that my child went Out West, too.


Just this week, my book club members were talking about time each of us had spent living in the States. I said I’d moved from Saskatchewan to Massachusetts and back to Nova Scotia, and I was asked, “For work?” To make a long story short, I said “Yes.” With that one word, I glossed over 15 years of difficult personal history.

I’m not sure if I sold myself out. It wasn’t the time or place to unfold that saga. To say that I followed work – mine or other’s – was not untrue. Work may have led me around. To some extent, economics drive life. But it’s never the whole story. That is just as true for my great-grandparents as it is for my child. It is strange to see myself as part of a historic migration pattern.

To quote Midnight Oil, “We follow in the steps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken.” It can, but at what cost?

Despite living on the East Coast, Rom and I are now located part way between our kid, Link, in Toronto and Rom’s parents in Sussex, England. Meanwhile, the rest of my family is here, and we have deep roots.

Why do you live where you do?

See also: Where I Live, Down East and Why I’m in the Suburbs


  1. Firstly – yes! I get your whole post in an email, which I can read at work for a ‘break’. So thank you so much.

    Secondly, looking (again) at the maps, I think too, who would live there, with the horrid weather particularly! I am also a LOVER of big cities (Paris, NYC etc), so I wonder if I’d find it isolating, though in 2006 living in Rennes a populationo of 200k was lovely.

    How’d I end up in Sydney? I answer it with ‘I came here for uni’. But the truth is bigger than that – I wanted to get away from the cliches of my private high school that would have endured at the few universities in that city (ie TWO really!). And my family as I graduated high school lived closer to Sydney (in Wollongong). In the end, I started university in Sydney as they move 5 hours drive away to the Snowy Mountains, which is closer to Canberra, a hub of many very good universities. So all in all, I could have easily done university in any of three cities, and chose Sydney! As life would have it, my parents could ‘pick any city’ in my second year of university, to live and seek work, and chose Sydney. My father hoped (and succeeded) in returning to a former employer, and my mother had a large catchment of private schools she could work at. They could have easily returned to Brisbane, where I’d spent the first 10 years of my childhood, but without property there, and eight out of the nine years past being away from it, it lost it’s ‘home’ feel. Wollongong was a regional mining city, and didn’t have many attractions to my parents (ie less jobs for themselves, and the community/friendships they’d made in the four years there weren’t plentiful or strong). So it is SO many things that weigh in on where I live, and they came to live! And that’s before we talk about regions/suburbs of Sydney, that’s almost as complex and detailed!

    • Hi Sarah, Happy to hear you are getting the full posts now! One thing I’ve never dealt with is my parents moving. We moved once during my childhood, when my parents were able to buy a house, and then we stayed. They still live there. I know my dad passed on a promotion once because he (perhaps unwisely) asked us kids whether we’d be amenable to moving, and we said no! The result is that only one place feels like home to me. I have moved a lot in my adult life (10 times, in 4 different cities/towns) so I consider myself adaptable, but there is nothing like a deep knowledge of an actual geography.

  2. I love this post!
    We’re just starting to apply for schools for my eldest son and I really had to think about whether we want to stay where we are are move to another town (which we’ve been umming and ahhing about for a while) before he’s settled in somewhere and it’s unnecessarily disruptive.
    We picked our current town on a map when my husband was offered a job nearby but there are about 6 different towns we could have chosen as his office is in the countryside smack bang in the middle of the county. I picked it as it was smallish and quaint looking and the town centre still has all the old historical buildings I love and nearly everything is in walking distance with a buggy.
    The downsides are that it is quite expensive to live here, and possibly connected to this, attitudes can be a little conservative for my liking (we could very well end up with a UKIP MP after the election on Thursday and if not it will definitely be a Tory). But after living here for just over a year I have just got to that stage where I have made a few good friends and I know a lot of people to say hello to when I’m out and about and that feels so nice after feeling like an outsider for quite some time. I’ll always be a CFA but I think I’m stuck here until something amazing tempts us away because even moving 20 miles away to a bigger town/city feels like starting right back at the beginning again and I sort of like feeling like I have a few roots in this place.

    • Yikes, school selection! I am glad we don’t have that craze here. I agree that moving even 20 miles is a big deal. And 20 miles is probably not enough to get you out of UKIP territory 🙂 I think all conservative towns have small bastions of liberal-mindedness, but then you have to “come out” to your neighbours! It sounds like staying where you are, with a social conscience, might be a good option as long as the school is not awful. Maybe if your child is very outspoken about religious and political views, it might ruffle some feathers – nothing wrong with some training to deal with that, at age 5!

  3. We chose this part of Ontario close to Toronto, as that is where is dh found a job. We came to Canada to better ourselves and give our children a more varied life and a better life. We have achieved that as far as we are concerned.

    • Gill, I think you were ahead of your time. When Rom moved here 6 years ago during the recession, a lot of his relatives and friends wanted to leave the UK because of the dire economy. They have mostly stayed and rode it out by being frugal and downsizing and cobbling together jobs – much like we’ve always done here on the east coast. You picked a good locale since your kids would have been brought up in a rural area with close access to the big city. Well done!

  4. I’m a native New Yorker and except for 5 years spent in college and grad school in Massachusetts I’ve always lived in the city.

    Donna is from Los Angeles, went to college and grad school in California, and ended up in New York because she felt at home here.

    My main objections to New York are all about money (the rich/poor divide, the high cost of housing, and the high cost of everything else). I’d also like it to be easier to get some place beautiful faster. Overall though, I’m a lifer and I plan to die here (not anytime soon).

  5. NicolaB

    I have always lived here (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK) except for three years at uni. By the time I came to choose universities, I had realised that big cities were not for me. Therefore I went to Durham, which was big enough to have stuff to do but small enough not to be overwhelming, and to have green space/access to countryside.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting London, but the idea of living there…bleurgh! Too many people, not enough fields. So I have stayed here, on the edge of town with fields and birds but able to walk into town in less than 30 mins (1.5 miles to work, which gives me excercise).

    My dad has always lived here; my mum is from up north (Hull) and came to Suffolk for work after uni (she has a degree in soil science, so although Suffolk is not known as an economic powerhouse, it was the right place for her!) and met my dad. From the family tree reasearch I have done, my dad’s mum’s family have lived in villages surrounding Bury for generations (all agricultural workers of some description). Not sure about dad’s dad’s family, but I suspect they have been in the area for a while.

    We now live about half a mile away from my parents… I know for some people that would be too close, but it works well- they are doggy day care for us whilst we are at work!

    I can’t see myself moving- not from the area and probably not from this house- I think that makes me a ‘homebody’!

    • There is a lot to be said for a slower paced life, close to nature and to family. Because I am in the suburbs, I feel like I have some of that, and being close to family, I like that our heritage is all around us.

  6. jamielredmond

    I was so excited to see the topic of this blog post. It is very timely for me. I’ve been discussing the topic this week with a friend of mine, wondering why we live here, why we might stay, where we might go otherwise and how people end up where they are! I’m looking forward to reading all the responses you get.

    As I think I’ve said before, we currently live in the Snowy Mountains of Australia. We’ve been here for 18 months now.

    Going back to when we left home, my (now) husband and I moved from a country town in NSW (where he and his mother had been born, and where I ended up during high school following my mother’s second divorce. I think my mother and I moved there after the divorce as we had family that had moved there) to university in Newcastle.There were a number of universities that ran our courses and we could have applied to, but we both had a preference for Newcastle. It was bigger than where we had gone to school, so that was a drawcard, while not being Sydney. It had lovely beaches, and I had lived there when I was younger so it didn’t seem too foreign and scary to us.

    After uni we were happy to move anywhere my husband could get work except Sydney! He got two job offers – one ten minutes from where we were living, and one about an hour away on the Central Coast of NSW. He took the job that was further away, as he had already done some work at that location and knew the staff were decent to work with. I had also lived there (though too young to remember it!) so it, again, didn’t seem too scary a move.

    Eighteen months later we hadn’t really settled in. We found the Coast too much like we pictured Sydney as being (busy, expensive, impersonal). We didn’t really feel we had a community and couldn’t see much opportunity for promotion for my husband. We started looking at job ads….

    A job with a 6 month contract came up about 500km west of Sydney (i.e. middle of nowhere!) We were unsure, as we had never heard of the place and knew no one out there. They were happy to do an interview over the phone ,but we knew we wanted to check the place out before committing! Even then we were unsure. My husband applied for a 6 month leave of absence from his position on the Coast and we looked into placing our belongings in storage for 6 months. In the end, his leave was denied and we took the plunge! We ended up being there for 9 years.

    We left there when a better job opportunity came up. We had been looking for another opportunity for about 4 years, but wanted to find something just right. We had a beautiful 1928 Bungalow that we had renovated (mostly ourselves) and it was hard to leave that. We wanted to move to somewhere with more opportunities for our children as they got older. There were a few jobs that came up over the years. None were just right. Then we heard about my husband’s (now) current job. The fit sounded just right (though it was very hard to sell our house!)

    Things haven’t quite panned out in the new place as they were presented to us in the beginning. If we had known then what we know now…..there have been times we’ve said that if we’d known we wouldn’t have taken the plunge again. Then again, maybe in the long run it will be the right choice. Right now, we aren’t sure it is the right choice. It is just an okay choice for now. We are trying to make the most of the opportunities we have here while leaving ourselves flexible to take up a new opportunity if it arises.

    Sorry for the epic reply. Thanks to anyone who trudged through all my ramblings!

    • Hi Jamie, a lot of people move somewhere thinking it will be temporary, and then it isn’t! There must be so many people biding their time somewhere and hoping for the next opportunity. I am sorry if your husband’s working conditions or opportunities are less than he was led to believe. I think it’s possible to build a satisfying life despite a less than optimal job. But if you are willing to make another family move, then I bet you will go for it! I think most people give themselves a window of x many years and then say nope; not going to move again!

      I thought it was funny that your general philosophy is “anywhere but Sydney”!

  7. gk

    I’ve never been to Nova Scotia, but it has always occupied a romantic corner in my mind (beautiful, isolated, inclement weather = cosy). In reality I’m not so good with nature, isolation or inclement weather. 🙂
    Economics (employment) drove our decision to live where we do and we sacrificed having close family as a result. Ideally it would be nice to have both – you seemed to have managed it!

    • I do feel lucky that we both have good jobs here and we can be close to family (although the younger generation is anyone’s guess!)

      I wonder if the climate and terrain here are much like northern Scotland for which we were named.

  8. Fi

    I loved reading your reply Jamie – and all the other comments – so interesting to hear how peoples’ lives pan out!

    Dar, I love hearing more and more about Halifax. I think I’d love it, with all the natural landscapes and also the mix of city things but perhaps on a more human scale than some megacities. Plus the history of Halifax is so interesting. And so many things are done so well in Canada. I’d still love to visit the schools that are constantly held up as models to us in Oz, thanks to PISA and TiMMS.

    Love the Midnight Oil reference!! I’m singing Proclaimers in my head now too, after reading that!

    I’ve lived in 3 states in Australia, and we were 6 weeks off packing up our lives to move to Toronto for work in 2009. I love the adventure of moving and trying new places. I’d move again for a stint if the opportunity came up. But I’ll always return home to Melbourne. I’ve moved so much in my life (20+ times with my parents) that I really value having my roots; it grounds me. I’m a believer that the grass is NOT always greener somewhere else; sometimes, it’s as green as you make it wherever you are (not always, but I’m wary of looking for ‘outs’ somewhere else.) We missed the extended family (on both sides) too much when we moved to Sydney, even though we did love live there. I still want to get to Canada one day. I feel like we missed an appointment by not moving there when we were so close to it!

    • Halifax is a good place to live, especially if you have a travel budget for getaways! Canada is in a panic about its falling math and reading scores (see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/canadas-fall-in-math-education-ranking-sets-off-red-flags/article15730663/) I had to look up PISA and TIMMS!

      Midnight Oil’s album Diesel and Dust has a special place in my heart. I just finished reading The Inconvenient Indian (a book about Canada’s shameful colonial practices with First Nations) and I listened to the album afterward and it is still so relevant.

      I have lived in 3 provinces and 1 state, and although I don’t consider myself well-travelled, I completely agree about the “grass is not always greener” concept. I do think it’s possible to make strange decisions about moving and to find out that all of your preconceptions were wrong. I haven’t lived anywhere I disliked or wanted to escape. I can’t imagine living in a place with an oppressive government, a destroyed environment, a lack of basic services, etc.

      • Fi

        I liked the article – it sounds word for word like Australia’s panic over our ‘falling standards’ (accompanied by study tours to Finland to find out what they’re doing differently.) Now I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of reading the Globe and Mail! Intrigued by all kinds of similarities and differences between Australia and Canada.

      • Despite the vast differences, I think Canada and Australia have incredible similarities. Especially the big geography, small population, track record of dealing with Aboriginal peoples, and the commonwealth / colonial connections. I first realized all this when I read Road from Coorain and its sequels!

      • Fi

        My first thought was exactly that – there are amazing similarities. One big difference is our welfare system. Everyone over age 65 qualifies for a pension (unless very, very wealthy.) You don’t have to have worked or contributed to a pension plan. It’s a significant impost on our taxation system. I haven’t read ‘Road from Coorain’ but will will look it up!

      • I wonder about the rates – we have an “old age pension” for everyone over 65, but it is only $565 a month – there are various income cut-offs to be eligible for more.

      • Fi

        Here, the pension is around $550 per week for a couple, so it’s not luxury but it’s liveable, if you have a paid-off home. There are other benefits on top of that, such as Health Care Cards, Rent Assistance Payment etc.

        The assets test excludes your own home, so there are many people with million dollar homes still on the pension.

        We are proud of our generous ‘safety net’ system, but there are many questions being raised about its sustainability with an ageing population.

      • Fi

        Actually, just looked up the rates. Full pension now is $648 per week, per couple, with some assistance from various schemes above that.

      • On a per person basis, that is more than double what we offer!

  9. Home IS where the heart is. I live here because it has four seasons, access to coast and mountains, close enough, yet far enough away from my home town and it is a vibrant place.

    • Despite all my grumbling about the weather, I like having 4 seasons too (even though this year it feels like “winter followed by a brief moment of something else.”) Our fall season is spectacular. I was away from my home town long enough that I am OK with being back!

      • The scenery is beautiful. While colder, your country has so much more to offer in quality than south of the border.

  10. I’d love to try a year in your neck of the woods with wild and wooly and very different weather from here.

    I’ve lived in different areas of Sydney and don’t think I’d ever leave. I like the anonymity and friends and natural beauty and weather and city attractions and universities.

    My mother, sister and cousins find my desire to remain here strange. We have no long term roots. My mother and father were immigrants. All my immediate family and my mother’s brother’s family left Sydney over 25 years ago. They would never return. Too busy, too many people, too ethnically diverse, too noisy etc etc etc. In short, a big city. But they couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. The Sydney housing market is unforgiving.

    I would like to live in an English village with close access to London with Sydney weather and access to Australian beaches and bush. As my fantasy place doesn’t exist, I will stay in Sydney.

    I did try a year in a small town once. That was enough. I wouldn’t mind trying Tasmania. But as Mr S doesn’t handle change (it took me years of working on him to get him to move suburbs, and now he thinks this is heaven, but a bigger change just wouldn’t happen. I can see me selling this place and moving closer to the coast in 10 years but Mr S wouldn’t go easily, so I better start my campaign now. Lol)

    • I like your fantasy place! It would be unfathomable for me to live anywhere without a frozen-type winter. I might not want as much as we have, but I wouldn’t want to live in a place without a real winter, either.

      I love how you specifically mention the anonymity of the city. That really appeals to me, too.

      I don’t know if we will ever move unless we have some sort of personal calamity, so I won’t wish for it!

      When you say closer to the coast – you do mean within the Sydney area? I can imagine the prices!

      • When we lived in a small country town for a year while Mr S was teaching in the local high school, everyone knew us but we didn’t know them. I didn’t realise how it was as I was a Sydneysider. Our every act and move was reported on. Toke a bit to get used to. As a high school teacher, anonymity is extra important.

        Yes, the coast in Sydney. Where I’d like to live is not too much more expensive than here where we areas it is so far north from the city. You can google realestate in Newport NSW. Right on a beach. Mr S doesn’t want to live there because it is too far from the city and doesn’t have a train line.

  11. cheryl

    I have lived in the same small town in Southern Ontario my entire 57 years. When we were first married, I suggested moving to a larger city a few miles down the road. My husband wasn’t interested, so here we stayed. We still live in the first home we ever purchased because I was never willing to pack up all the crap we own and move it to a different house. I guess he and I are together for a reason.

    I don’t think too much anymore about where we live. It is what it is. I can drive just over an hour to be in Toronto to see a show or hop on a plane in Buffalo and be in NYC before lunch. I consider myself lucky for the opportunity.

    My career was in retail and of course there were always teenagers working there at their first job. I had a set speech that at one time or another I gave to all of them. “GO AWAY TO SCHOOL. Do not go to the local college or university if you have the chance. It changes who you are. You learn first-hand that it is a great big world out there and it is yours for the taking.” I guess it is a speech that I wished someone had said to me. You can always come back.

    • Hi Cheryl,
      I agree you can always come back, and when you come back with a new world view, sometimes you appreciate the way things always were. When I was 18, I wasn’t ready to go away to school. I wish I had left for grad school but I had no options to afford it. So I left for my first career-level job instead. I lived in Saskatoon which was far away and had a different culture, but wasn’t intimidating.

      I always admire people who live near a city and who actually go there for entertainment, festivals, restaurants, shopping, and so on. It seems that many like the “idea” of being near enough to a big city to do those things, but then it feels like too much hassle and it never happens. I hope I never get so set in my ways that I am afraid of traffic, public transport, crowds, and the extra expense of accessing city culture. I want to keep it up as long as health and finances allow!

      It sounds like you’ve never had an upheaval that would have required you to move – excellent!

  12. EcoCatLady

    I’m in the “from here” category – and I have to say that as Denver has become a bit of a boom town, it starts to feel like I’m a definite minority! I realize this is totally stupid, but one of the things that bothers me the most is how the pronunciation of my state’s name has changed. When I was growing up, the word “Colorado” was always pronounced with a short “a” like it rhymed with “shadow.” But as Denver has become more cosmopolitan, and tried to shed some of it’s “cow town” image, people started pronouncing it with more of an “aw” sound like “aficionado.” Not sure why that bothers me so much, but I used to want to shake people and tell them that they were pronouncing it wrong. Of course, these days almost nobody uses the “correct” pronunciation except for a few of us – the “old timers.” Sigh.

  13. I think Halifax would be a great place to visit–in the summer! Winter not so much 🙂 As far as where I live, we ended up moving to Las Vegas totally on a whim. We had sold our house and were traveling around with no idea if we would return “home” to Seattle or move elsewhere when we came to Vegas for a poker tournament and houses were so cheap that we bought one! Weird huh? But we are pretty happy here and the weather is much much better than Seattle nine months out of the year.

    • I could probably relate to the rain, gloom and cool temperatures in Seattle! A place like Las Vegas would seem alien to me, doubly so because of the entertainment industry there! The strip must seem very surreal.

  14. Moving is always strange and I prefer moving to another place rather to stay in the same city, because there are no associations and it is so much easy! But that’s me, guess it depends on your approach to something new. Greetings!

  15. Pingback: The Where of It All | An Exacting Life

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