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COVID-19’s unexpected impact is bigger desire for Nova Scotia's rural lifestyle

Amina Issa moved from Toronto to Truro for a better quality of life. The draw of rural areas - slower lifestyle and cheaper housing - is appealing to more people as work from home has opened up new doors for where people can live and work.
Amina Issa moved from Toronto to Truro for a better quality of life. The draw of rural areas - slower lifestyle and cheaper housing - is appealing to more people as work from home has opened up new doors for where people can live and work. - SaltWire Network

Megan Brobbin was living in a middle-class suburb in Ontario when she noticed things like home invasions were on the rise in her area.

This was the push her family needed to move from the Greater Toronto Area to East Pubnico, N.S., where she felt it would be safer to raise her daughters.

Another deciding factor, says Brobbin, was the housing market. Their house value was worth the risk of moving.

“We had a 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom raised bungalow with a cookie-cutter layout,” she says. “I could have walked into my neighbour's house and not known the difference.”

For a postage-stamp-sized lot, they had paid $150,000, but in East Pubnico, they purchased two acres of ocean-front with a unique, 2,000-square-foot Victorian home for under $70,000 15 years ago. In Ontario, a waterfront property would have been out of the question.

“Here, with the pace of life and the housing market, as the millennials say, we could live our best selves,” says Brobbin.

John and Megan Brobbin left life in Toronto behind in favour of living in East Pubnico. A better bang for their buck in terms of real estate made the move appealing. - SaltWire Network
John and Megan Brobbin left life in Toronto behind in favour of living in East Pubnico. A better bang for their buck in terms of real estate made the move appealing. - SaltWire Network

 

 

Reasons for the move

There are many reasons for this counter-migration of people moving from urban areas into rural ones. There's a desire for the bigger space smaller towns and villages offer, but they also want amenities, good education for their children, infrastructure like recreation centres, and modern hospitals, says Brennan Gillis, chief executive officer of the Truro and Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity.

Jennifer Tufts, chief executive officer of the Valley Regional Enterprise Network, says current events have prompted another out-migration to rural areas.

During the pandemic, when the Halifax region was considered a hotspot for the majority of COVID-19 cases - as were other major urban city centres throughout Canada - rural regions throughout the province became attractive, offering a safer place for families, says Tufts.

As a result, the local real estate market is booming, says Gillis. There is a significant demand for houses. Some central and western Canadian buyers are only doing a virtual tour and then making an offer, he says.

But there is a problem. Tufts says she’s not sure rural areas now have enough housing inventory to keep up with demand.

Housing crunch

Real estate agent Heather Nauss of Exit Realty, based in New Minas, N.S. knows all about this. Houses that she puts on the market in the morning are sold, often above the asking price, by that evening.

Since April 1, Nauss says that 17 out of her 44 sales were buyers from out of province, many who bought the properties sight unseen with just a video from agents and home inspectors as their only eyes on the property. All the other realtors she talks with are seeing the same trend.

Their reasons for wanting to move to rural Nova Scotia? Nauss says people are looking to retire here or relocate for work. Because so many people are working from home now, they can live wherever they want, and want to do so here, where they say it is safer, she says.

This work from home opportunity, says Gillis, gives so many opportunities to not only the employee but also the employer. Employers can also take advantage and access talent in other regions, as long as reliable broadband is in place, says Gillis.

“These newcomers breathe more life and diversity into rural Nova Scotia and help maintain essential services,” he says.

With the increase in population in rural areas, Tufts says there will also be increased labour participation, making it easier to fill jobs or vacancies, increased new business start-ups, increased local spending, and increased local tourism. All of this has a major economic impact.

Rural appreciation

Brobbin says technology has made it easier to live rurally, too.

“As soon as high speed and Amazon became widely available, the conveniences of the city became moot,” she says, noting she can now order anything super niche and urban and have it delivered to her home in a couple of days.

Aside from concerts and world-class museums, Brobbin says small towns have more accessible and affordable cultural venues than most cities. Although her husband misses live sports sometimes, she says he is lucky enough to be able to afford to fly to the nearest Leafs game every couple of years or catch a game when he is away on business travel.

Sara Freixa Ruiz, who is originally from Spain, also appreciates many things about her now rural lifestyle after moving from New York City to Port Maitland, N.S. during the pandemic.

Sara Freixa Ruiz and her husband, Dwayne, moved to Port Maitland, N.S. from New York City during the pandemic. Thankfully, she says, with internet, their jobs allow them to work from anywhere in the world. - SaltWire Network
Sara Freixa Ruiz and her husband, Dwayne, moved to Port Maitland, N.S. from New York City during the pandemic. Thankfully, she says, with internet, their jobs allow them to work from anywhere in the world. - SaltWire Network

 

Ruiz and her family had been staying at their second home on the South Shore, visiting her husband’s daughter, when the borders closed because of COVID-19, forcing them to stay put. Thankfully, she and her husband can work anywhere there is internet, and she calls Zoom video conferencing the new plane for business travel.

Ruiz misses food and grocery delivery, as well as cultural aspects like museums, theatres, and food variety, even if it has improved here in the last few years.

"I miss a good speakeasy bar and a variety of live music, and young people with the same interests," she says.

On the flip side, she now has a lot more space and likes waking up to nature. She can have a garden, feed the birds and the deer, and gets to have a car, which is a luxury in New York City. She likes the sense of community here.

“So, it’s a trade-off,” she says. “But I would be lying if I told you that I won’t be on the first plane out to a beach place with warm weather the second I get the chance.”

Encouraging moves

Gillis says the Truro and Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity is actively engaged in encouraging people to relocate to the area. Currently, he says, they are running social media ads in Toronto and Calgary and also have articles featuring individuals who made the move to Truro from larger centres.

Whether it’s helping the Nova Scotia Health Authority with physician recruitment, or other businesses trying to bring in talent, Gillis says the group has provided supports to people making the move. Having a dedicated person able to help prospective newcomers has been an advantage, he says, especially during COVID-19.

"Prospective families really need a touch-point – someone to connect them to the proper resources," he adds.

Brennan Gillis, chief executive officer of the Truro and Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity, says it’s an ideal time to be sharing stories of people who have moved from large cities to rural.  Currently, the partnership has an ad running in Toronto to attract people to move to rural Nova Scotia.    - SaltWire Network
Brennan Gillis, chief executive officer of the Truro and Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity, says it’s an ideal time to be sharing stories of people who have moved from large cities to rural. Currently, the partnership has an ad running in Toronto to attract people to move to rural Nova Scotia. - SaltWire Network

 

Likewise, the Valley Regional Enterprise Network, Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Valley Business Leaders’ Initiative formed a collaborative relationship to prepare a new marketing program to promote the Annapolis Valley from a tourism, residential attraction, and settlement, labour force attraction, and business investment standpoint, says Tufts. Part of this includes a “living here” campaign on the haveitallav.com website, she says.

People are looking for quality of life, educational opportunities, recreational opportunities, job opportunities, safe communities, affordable housing, access to healthcare and access to local produce, says Tufts, adding, "Rural Nova Scotia has it all."

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