Since moving from Southern Ontario to the southeastern part of New Brunswick (a quick 1600km [1000mi] jaunt) in August 2020 the most common question I am asked is, “Do you like New Brunswick?” and the second most common one is, “Do you miss Ontario?”
The answers, as it turns out, encompass more than a simple “Yes” or “No”.
Do I like New Brunswick?
Yes. There is a lot to like about his little maritime province of 800,000 souls.
All the people I’ve encountered are pretty chill and my biggest adjustment was to the pace. Everyone here moves around like they’re on a Caribbean island that just happens to have below freezing temperatures six months of the year. Spending 46 years in Southern Ontario, most of that within an hour of Toronto (~5 Million people), it’s a fair statement that I’m wound pretty tight, so I find myself tapping my toe, white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, or yelling “MOVE ALREADY!” more often than I’d like to. Make no mistake though, I long for the day I can embrace the worry pas attitude of my neighbours.
Speaking of neighbours, the people here are known for being, well, neighbourly, and it’s true! That’s probably the thing I like the most (aside from the 110km/hr speed limit on the highway that never has traffic). For the most part, people here behave neighbourly regardless of your background, religion, or political stripe – until you give them a reason not to, at which point you’d better watch out or you’ll find yourself on the business end of an Acadian Throwing Star.
The province is also absolutely gorgeous. As you can see from the photo above the province is near water, bordered on two sides by the Bay of Fundy to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. That said, it’s actually known more for its trees (and the Irving oil company, but I have nothing nice to say about them other than their rest stop washrooms are really clean). New Brunswick has a crap tonne of trees. So many trees, very little farmland. I was surprised at how hilly the province is. While there are relatively few freshwater lakes, the province boasts the best of all worlds. All it’s missing is a big mountain like Alberta or BC and a giant flat expanse of wheat like Saskatchewan and it’d be the geographical representation of the whole country in a tidy 72,908 square kilometre package.
Things are also cheaper here. Not everyday things like a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter, but big-ticket items like property and housing. The house you’ll see a picture of in the next section would cost me half in New Brunswick of what I would pay in Ontario. As it stands I went from a 40-foot-wide lot with a postage stamp for a backyard bordered by three fences to a 70-foot-wide one with a big-ass shed, screened gazebo, and a tree-lined rear property line backing onto an even more tree-lined crushed gravel multi-use path maintained by the city in all seasons.
The third-most common question I’m asked is if I plan on moving back to “Upper Canada”. While I can’t predict the future, one scroll through my Instagram feed should give you the most likely answer.
Do I miss Ontario?
Mostly not, but what I do miss I miss with an intensity that makes my heart ache.
I don’t miss the traffic. I don’t miss the default curtness or downright rudeness of a lot of the people. I don’t miss the rush, the hustle and bustle, and the traffic. Have I mentioned I don’t miss the traffic? I am fortunate that I get to work from home, but even if my commute was to the other side of the city it would be at worst a 20-minute drive.
It seems the Southern Ontario experience and its citizen’s default behaviour is the exact opposite of what you’ll find out east.
I really don’t miss the politicians, specifically Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Drug Fraud, a.k.a. Trump North, a.k.a. Little Dougy). It’s probably no secret to anyone who’s read this blog that I’m not a fan of conservative politics, and the conservative politicians in Ontario are pretty much the worst. Even though New Brunswick elected a Conservative government a month after I moved here (damn you, New Brunswick, that was a real dick move!) it’s a different brand of politics. There’s still a lot of the same ol’ conservative bullshit about keeping the minimum wage low and a general disrespect to anyone that’s not: a) rich or b) a donor, but they’re neighbourly about it and have been known to listen to reason once or twice. Baby steps.
While I don’t miss Toronto and all the congestion and shitty transit services and throngs of people and the noise I do miss having access to baseball games and concerts. I really miss the music scene. My wife and I would go to shows all the time in Toronto and the surrounding area brings in every act you can think of. Since moving here we have made a commitment to attend as much live music as we can though it will never compare to what we had back in Ontario.
I miss my family’s cottage. Since 1938 my family has had a property on the water up at Wasaga Beach, the longest freshwater beach in the world. The cottage is smack dab in the middle of the beach which sits on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, a small bay that sits off the quite large Georgian Bay which sits off the quite large Lake Huron. It was a two-hour drive from my house to the cottage and it was worth it. Soft sand, warm weather in the summer with a soft breeze to keep the temperatures sensible, decent skiing in the winter at Blue Mountain just 20-minutes away, and the best sunsets on the planet.
Most of all, I miss the village I spent 46 years building and making myself a part of. My entire immediate family, including all my nieces, nephew, and in-laws, resided within a 90-minute drive of my house. With one exception, the lion’s share of my closest and most trusted friends all lived within a couple of hours. I miss watching gold medal hockey games with some of my best buds or scooting down to Rogers Centre for baseball games. Making friends as an adult is hard, especially when you work from home and have a global pandemic wreaking havoc with outside-the-house activities.
The lack of a village to call upon and lean on was never more apparent than it was last week. My wife drove our daughter to her dorm room at the University of Waterloo, about a half-hour drive from our former home (both my and my wife’s alma mater. Go Warriors!) After a year and a half of remote university, our daughter was excited about finally leaving the nest, but wouldn’t you know it, the day after she unloaded her car, the damn thing wouldn’t start, stranding both her and my wife in the hotel parking lot on January 3rd – the day most places were observing New Year’s and were understandably closed.
Well, after a post by my wife on Facebook and another one by me a short time after we were inundated with offers of places to stay, rides to the mechanic and the airport for my wife, recommendations for mechanics, and even the loan of a car to use while her’s was in the shop. It was overwhelming the amount of support they had, almost instantaneously and with no expectation of reciprocity.
With the outpouring of support from our Ontario village, it was never more apparent that it was something that didn’t exist here in New Brunswick. That, combined with my daughter leaving the nest, was an emotional moment and probably the most emotional experience I’ve had since I’ve been here.
But all is not lost.
As mentioned, making friends as an adult is hard. Everyone already has their group. Their villages are all built. Fortunately, I have a neighbour a couple of doors down that introduced himself shortly after I moved in and happens to be a member at the golf club I joined. He and I golfed quite a bit over the summer and have kept in touch in the off-season.
I also joined a curling club and play every Friday with a wonderful group of about 25 others. It’s a fun league and every week we do a “tag draw” for teams so we play with different people. COVID shut us down in December but as soon as we’re allowed we’ll be back at it.
My son played baseball this summer and toward the end of the year we found out that his teammate and his father the coach lived a few houses down the other way and across the street (funny aside: my wife pointed out the house with the basketball net and kids playing when we moved in but my son never got up the nerve to go say hello.) I see Coach walking the dog all the time and he gave me a bottle of wine in thanks for the jar of homemade salsa I gave him (made with tomatoes from my garden!)
Then, just the other day, as my wife was preparing her return from Ontario a funny thing happened. I texted my golf buddy neighbour and asked him if he could bring me back from the airport because I wanted to leave the car there for my wife. She was to get in late and I thought she’d appreciate not having to take a cab. So he said he would, and then drove me back. Not 20 minutes after I left the car for my wife she texted me saying her flight was cancelled. Golf neighbour was there to take me back so I could get the car (it was in short-term parking and leaving it overnight would have cost me a month’s golf membership dues.)
So the village is being rebuilt, one relationship at a time, but it is being rebuilt. We’ll see how things progress.
To my village back in Ontario, I miss you.
A day after I posted this we got hit with a big snowstorm. Our first nor’easter since moving here, and it was a doozy. It started in the late afternoon and for reasons only known to the Powers That Be my son’s shift at the grocery store wasn’t cancelled. He does shopping cart collection there so there’s no reason to have him working when there’s a foot of snow expected, but nevertheless, they persisted.
His shift was 5-10 pm and by 8:30 they made him clock out and we got the texts asking to come to get him.
There was only one problem:
So I got to work:
Only my wife’s 4×4 Pathfinder got stuck around the corner. One way or the other we were going to put our new village to the test. Golf neighbour didn’t know anyone with a snowmobile or a truck. I didn’t text Coach, but my wife and I both put out messages of assistance to our Facebook friends as well as the neighbourhood groups, my curling group, and my golf club group.
Just like with my wife and daughter last week, the offers of help came in one after the other. It was comforting and heartwarming. The people here, even the strangers who don’t know me from Adam, are truly good people. The plows came to our street, someone who knows someone who knows my wife was actually at the store where our son was and he met my wife halfway. By 10:00 pm everyone was home safe and sound.
Turns out we didn’t have to wait very long to find our village after all.
Twelve hours later:
My experience has always been that villages found us regardless if we were looking for one or not. I’m tempted to say that’s because we’re just great people, but the reality is there are a lot of great people out there. So many that you just can’t help bumping into them. And, of course, many not-so-great one also bumps into. Such is life.
Although, I agree. It’s difficult making close friends as we age . . . but, again, in part because of a lack of commitment on our part, and not for lack of other people trying.
The location seems the type of place I would enjoy . . . still looking for something like that in the US.
Where there are people, there are villages. Integrating into them or building from scratch is the tricky part. Thanks as always for reading!