What's the deal with Nova Scotia?
July 29, 2020 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering moving to rural Nova Scotia. This is a long-term thing, maybe 2-3 years, but I want to get some perspective because I know literally no one from there. Do you live there? Are you from there? What are the pros/cons?

Keep in mind I work 100% remote so jobs are not an issue. I'm also not very concerned with having an active social life. Quarantine has shown me that I'm very happy even if I only see friends rarely in person — which in this future would mean traveling to wherever they are. But having a remote job makes this easy, I can still work while I'm traveling. I am visibly queer so I don't want to be in a bible-beltish type area, but I'm not interested in dating so I don't need a big queer community close by.

Nova Scotia Pros:
1) Cheap property! Pretty much the closest area I can find where I could afford the kind of place I want.
2) Close-ish enough to Maine where my family is. I'd never move to the Prairies or northern Ontario, and I can't afford Southern Ontario. Don't have the French skills for rural QC.
3) Beautiful. I'd love to be near the ocean again, and I actually kind of hate the landscape of Southern Ontario.

Nova Scotia Cons:
1) I've heard a lot about the bad internet. I need fast internet for my job so this may be a barrier? I'm guessing real estate agents could help with figuring this out for any potential property, right?
2) Other things? No clue! I don't know what I don't know.

New Brunswick would otherwise fit the bill but I know someone who lived there recently and said it was awful — lots of social issues, not very functional government, bad healthcare. Is that impression reasonable? Is there a big difference between NB and NS?

If Nova Scotia is a bad idea I'll refocus on either saving up enough money to look at southern ish Ontario, or learning French well enough to live in a rural QC area near the border. Right now both of those goals are MANY more years away.

posted by 100kb to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This will be the same for pretty much all rural Canada but how comfortable are you with ethnically homogenous areas? Some friends and I visited Nova Scotia last year and we were the only visible minorities pretty much wherever we went, which is very different from where we live (Toronto).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:28 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm white, so I personally wouldn't face racial discrimination, and I grew up in a very white rural area in Maine so I know what that's like. I don't love that aspect of rural life, it sucks and it would be great to live in an ethnically diverse place, but I literally don't know of anywhere that exists that I could afford.
posted by 100kb at 3:45 PM on July 29, 2020

Hopefully, you'll get some more contemporary answers, as it's been a while since I stayed there for length, but I have family from there and have spent time with them in Truro and elsewhere in Pictou & Guysborough counties. Many parts of Nova Scotia are absolutely stunning, including where some of my family live (north shore near Pictou).

Nova Scotia like anywhere non-urban in Canada: substantially more socially conservative than the cities (This doesn't include Halifax, of course - it's a university town and anything goes). I don't think it's more socially conservative than rural southern Ontario, just the same amount of social conservatism; people my age (40-ish) from rural or exurban southern Ontario tell me stories about homophobia in the 90s and 2000s that seems more like Toronto in the 1970s or 80s. Of course, that doesn't meant there isn't pushback: in 2008, Truro voted to ban the flying the rainbow flag on flagpoles, but that also lead to a "witnessed a resurgence of queer mobilization" in the county. Here's a 2013 article on being queer in Nova Scotia. And, as any portmanteau in a storm notes, rural areas will be relatively racially homogeneous - though there is a growing middle eastern population (the Syrian family who run Peace by Chocolate settled and set up their business in Antigonish).

Internet and cell-phone service will also be expensive and possibly enh anywhere in rural Canada. It's a rural, not province-specific issue. Have you ruled out the Halifax region? It's still very pretty, oceanside, and less densely settled than anywhere in the greater Toronto/Vancouver area - but it's more likely to have strong internet.

I'm also assuming that you drive, since you're talking about rural areas, and if you don't have Canadian citizenship, you'll need to satisfy immigration requirements. Nova Scotia outside of Halifax is very hard to live in without a car. (I love Nova Scotia, my family lived there for 200+ years, but I can't, not until I learn how to drive - I can't even get to where we're from without someone to take me there.)
posted by jb at 3:50 PM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

In addition to the homophobic attack in 2013, New Glascow in Pictou County has the dubious "honour" of also being the place where Viola Desmond was arrested in 1946 for sitting in the (unofficial) white section of a movie theatre. It's one of those places I've just been driven through, on our way from Truro to Canso). But, as the Vice article I linked to notes, the reaction of the community to the 2013 attack was to strongly support the young man who had been hurt. In otherwords, Nova Scotia (like anywhere) can be a land of contrasts.

I'm not so sure that NS is that different from NB - but then, your friend's account strikes me as more a personal experience. Healthcare, especially, is something that really depends on which specific doctor you end up with. Even just two hospitals within Toronto can be night and day different, though both are public and funded the same way; I've had a terrible, incompetent family doctor and a terrific one. The systemic issues tend to be, again, more about lack of selection, lower rates of service in rural areas (true regardless of province). And every province takes its turn having the dysfunctional governments.
posted by jb at 4:09 PM on July 29, 2020

I have experience living in rural areas so I know what I'm getting into on that, I drive – in snow, even! — and I've lived in Canada for almost 20 years now.

Personally I'd love to live in a place like Vermont or parts of Maine (or the Gulf Islands but whew that's $$$) where it's more progressive old hippies and organic farmers. But not sure if that exists anywhere in NS. If I was willing to give up having healthcare entirely I'd just pop over the border and buy one of those ridiculously cheap old Vermont farmhouses.

From browsing around real estate sites I haven't seen anything fitting my needs near Halifax so far. There have been possibilities around Lunenberg, Digby, and Cape Breton. I've heard Wolfville area is kindof hippyish?

I'd like to get perspective on the factors that make Nova Scotia unique rather than general rural-living info. I know there will be discrimination, but there's discrimination in cities too, and we all have to make imperfect choices.
posted by 100kb at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2020

The internet access issue is real. But real estate agents will know what the deal is in and around specific towns.

The need for a car is also real. There’s no rail service and I believe that even bus service has stopped for a lot of the province.

I’ve lived in both NS and NB and haven’t found much difference overall. They’re more or less interchangeable, but I find Nova Scotia prettier. NB can be grubbier in some areas.

If you’re looking for something more progressive/hippie-ish, I’d recommend the South Shore in general. Chester and Mahoney Bay and Lunenburg can be pretty pricey in the towns themselves, but get just outside of them and there are still lots of affordable properties. There’s a pretty big artistic community in the area.
posted by fso at 5:12 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you want to live in rural QC. Just learn French.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:13 PM on July 29, 2020

Wolfville definitely has a hippyish air, yes. But Chester moreso.

Cape Breton is bloody lovely, but there's likely to be even worse internet service there. Having some French might be useful.

A friend who's recently retired as a lawyer, worked all across Canada and married into a Nova Scotia family described it as the most independent province he ever worked in. Some of that might be a good thing, but he also described a couple of small town cases where local laws seemed to prevail over accepted national or provincial law.
posted by scruss at 5:24 PM on July 29, 2020

Sounds like you want to live in rural QC

Rural QC is definitely not progressive or hippie-ish. Organic farm-y, yes, maybe.
posted by mekily at 5:28 PM on July 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've heard a lot about the bad internet. I need fast internet for my job so this may be a barrier? I'm guessing real estate agents could help with figuring this out for any potential property, right?

Nova Scotia is currently pumping a lot of money into rural internet development so this situating is likely to improve in a lot of places over the next 2-3 years. Very rural areas like individual farms still might not have good service, but many small towns will get it. Develop Nova Scotia has been pushing hard to get a lot of money flowing this year and they expect to have at least 25/5 to half the underserved houses in Nova Scotia by early next year. They have another RFP out for serving the remainder for next year.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:39 PM on July 29, 2020

I was born and raised in NS and lived there until a few years ago.

Pros: It's absolutely beautiful with lots of waterfront and ocean views. Summer and early fall are especially lovely. The entire province has a laid back vibe and there's an unusual number of artists and craftspeople living in the country. It can be inexpensive, depending on where you are. The food is great. There are tons of incredible parks like The Ovens and Kejimkujik and the CB Highlands. You can go places and be alone.

Cons: It is very difficult to find a family doctor, even in Halifax. Specialist appointments can take over a year. Hospitals in rural areas are closing. NS is homogeneous and conservative, especially outside of Halifax. Road conditions aren't great, to put it lightly. The weather is volatile and winter is awful. Think blizzards and ice storms, constant high winds, and a snow/rain/snow/sleet/rain cycle. The power goes out A LOT. You will absolutely need an emergency kit and if you're rural it will have to be pretty well-thought out. Oh and high speed internet does not exist in many rural areas.

I think the Annapolis Valley along the Bay of Fundy would be a good fit if you want hippies and organic farmers. But there are little pockets of funky areas everywhere. Of course the pandemic may have affected things. Another Nova Scotian can answer about progressive pockets in the province better than I can. Tatamagouche? LaHave? East Petpeswick has some fun artists.

I would not say that Chester is hippieish... but ymmv.
posted by Stoof at 5:41 PM on July 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

I was also born and raised in rural NS and lived in several rural communities there (and Halifax too), but I've lived away for some time now.

Pros: Property is really cheap! We recently sold a family home for $12K in a beautiful but very rural area (it was a historic home and definitely a fixer-upper, but still.) It's easy to get to the ocean and beautiful places. Fall is stunning. Halifax is fun and has most of what you need and an international airport. I think people do still pitch in and help their neighbours, but YMMV there. I think there's less keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, or at least that was my experience as compared to living in bigger cities.

Cons: Rural NS is pretty white and socially conservative. One thing that seems to throw people off is that people are friendly and welcoming to visitors, but can ice people out when they actually move there. The winters can really suck: deep snow, wet slush, damp that gets in your bones. Confirming that the power can go out for days, which especially sucks if you're on well water.

I would probably live in Halifax again if the right job came along, but not rural NS... but my social needs may be more than yours. NS is beautiful though and answering this has made me pine for home.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 6:01 PM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

This map might help a bit with your internet questions National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map
posted by bethnull at 9:52 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I live in Halifax and have lived in Cape Breton. I'm not originally from the area, so I can speak a bit from an outsider's perspective.

Medical care is not great. It is nearly impossible to find a family doctor, especially in rural areas. Smaller hospitals are often closed, which means a trip to the ER can take a few hours. NS is not that small or isolated a place and you're never more than a few hours from Halifax (the population density doesn't compare to somewhere like northern Ontario) but it can feel like you're in a remote spot when there are no services available. The doctor situation is a hot political topic.

Rural NS is rapidly depopulating. The only area where the population is growing is the urban Halifax area. There are some lovely small towns with cute cafes, antique shops and farmer's markets (the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore are good bets for this, Inverness in Cape Breton seems to be booming, and I also thought the Parrsboro area was very nice the one time I visited), but there are also sad towns where the only place to buy a coffee is the gas station, and most of the main street is boarded up. I have spent some time in a town along the eastern shore, and there were people who had retired to the area for cheap real estate, but now needed to be in a nursing home and could not sell the house they had poured their retirement savings into.

This may change due to COVID, who knows. You're not the first person I've heard talking about moving to NS to work from home!
posted by pierogi24 at 4:55 AM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'll try to help, since I have an outsider perspective. I'm from Alberta but have family in Cape Breton, married someone from there, have spent many summers there and even stayed there in a non-vacation context for about three months last year. Keep in mind I'm talking specifically about Cape Breton here, I can't speak for other parts:

- Very strong love of music (fiddle of course, but also folk), extremely talented musicians, people go to see live music as often as possible
- Strong support of other visual arts, painting but also quilting, knitting etc
- Storytelling is very important; being able to tell a good story is highly valued. If you can't do that (like me), you get to hear other people tell great stories
- Like storytelling, having encounters that are jokey are highly valued
- Social connection, a sense of community - highly valued
- You're usually close to a beach in the summer. The season is short and the water isn't that warm, but it's still wonderful
- Lots of drinking. But also lots of former alcoholics who don't drink at all
- People will do anything to help you
- Wonderful idioms that can make you smile, liberal use of the word 'arse' which cracks me up. 'Stunned' for stupid.
- If you're strange, people will still like you. If you are strange in a delightful way, people will adore you. The local man (to my husband's area) who apparently wore a skirt in the 70's I think because of chaffing is the stuff of legend.
- Thinking too highly of yourself, not ok. People like to tease kindly. If you're not into that they won't like you as much
- Very catholic but you won't be shunned for not going to church
- Bartering is a thing.
- People are not very materialistic - they don't have a lot of money so they can't be.
- Extreme pride in their island. Justifiable, in my opinion.
- Driving is such a pleasure, at least in the summer. There are never a lot of cars and the scenery is always gorgeous.
- Kitchen parties. That's what it's called when people have a party and there are musicians playing
- Visiting. Unexpected visitors.
- Baked good - very important

So these are all positive things. The negatives I think apply to any small town. Everyone will be all up in your business and will gossip about you mercilessly. Bad internet. No doctors.

Oh, and winter. I've never spent a lot of time there in winter. But I know everything kind of shuts down.. It's a tourist economy, so seriously, there are not many things open.

Feel free to memail me if you like. I've dreamed of living there for so long.
posted by kitcat at 9:44 AM on July 30, 2020

Thanks for all the insights! Especially jacquilynne noting the rapid improvement of internet infrastructure, I hadn't heard about that and it will probably increase my options significantly.

Hopefully the healthcare situation will improve, but according to this report (PDF linked in article) NS has among the highest doctors per capita? Also, people have complained about the same problems (no family doctors, long wait times for specialists) in Vancouver & Montreal, so it's hard for me to tell whether it's just a universal issue or if it's actually quantitatively worse in NS. FWIW I've never had problems getting healthcare in either city. But this might be a question that's too complex for this forum!
posted by 100kb at 1:50 PM on August 1, 2020


In Cape Breton you have to join a waitlist to get a family doctor. A family member has been on it for 3 years.
posted by kitcat at 10:17 AM on August 4, 2020

Kitcat, it's about 1.5-2 years in Montreal if you're on the provincial waitlist. The wait times are actually going up, so people on the list now may end up waiting 3 years. But this issue is complicated by the fact that many people never go through the provincial waitlist systems and get a doctor through family or by contacting the office directly.

That's why I was wondering how much difference there actually is in outcomes. I'm not sure if anecdotal evidence will be enough. For example, I got a doctor in Montreal by calling their office and getting lucky after one try, so my "search" only lasted a week. If I was to tell someone else how it is in Montreal based just on my personal experience, they'd get the impression there's no doctor shortage.

The article you linked is definitely interesting, but it only compares NS to itself, not to other provinces, and doesn't give the registration rate, just the numbers that are unregistered. The Gazette article compares registration rates but only for Ontario & Quebec. Getting to the bottom of this question seems like a problem requiring some digging into obscure government public health reports.
posted by 100kb at 12:45 PM on August 6, 2020

Wow, holy shit! I did this about 6 years ago, and it worked out for about 18 months, had to leave.

Now, based on what you have explained here you are in a much better position than I was, so you might make it work. What ended it for me were largely personal / financial / family issues. But, I can give you very direct first hand account of what it was like moving to and living in rural NS...

1. The land yes! The cheap land, that is also what drove me. You can get a big beautiful homestead for the price of a tiny apartment in a city elsewhere. The upkeep and improvement of that place will be just as expensive there as anywhere else in Canada. Fencing, painting, resurfacing your driveway, buying a new oil tank or furnace... all that shit costs the same in rural NS that it costs in Vancouver or Montreal, and the size / volume of your property and the shitty economics of the people around make it seem all the more expensive. If you are working remote, OK, maybe not a big deal for you. But I guess, my main thing I am warning you here, is that maybe the land is cheap but all those additional costs are not necessarily cheap and if you are not used to being a home or landowner, those costs can be pretty huge depending.

2. Religion, at least where I moved, it is really a thing. The extreme west coast out on the Bay of Fundy, check the number of churches where you are moving. Some of them are pretty extreme, there are 7th Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses where I was, and a few competing more mainstream ones. That really has an effect on how welcoming and friendly a community is, both surface level and as you embed deeper. In a big city you can say "F the people in that intolerant group" and it is no big deal. In a smaller town, where they are a significant percent of the very few people you are bumping into in your day to day biz, it is much more significant...

3. Racism. This was the ugliest thing for me, I had no idea there were parts of Canada like this. I have spoken about it multiple times here and do not want to repeat myself. But holy smoley, many of the white people I met in my small town were unapologetic blatant racists, like what you would expect in the 50's. As a cosmopolitan liberal city person I was quite shocked that such opinions could still exist. Ugh...

4. The natural beauty and the history and all that shit, it was really nice. I wish I could have made it work there.

Good luck, hope this helps!
posted by Meatbomb at 7:02 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh sorry forgot...

5. Medical. Yes, we tried and tried and could NOT find a family doctor. The health care situation for us was another big reason we eventually decided we couldn't do it.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:10 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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