It’s important to note that the COVID pandemic, which altered so many people’s lives across Canada and around the world, came close to derailing my move, as well. My original plan had been to give notice at my old apartment at the end of March, and make the move at the end of May. The reason for the end of May moving date was that I have seen snowy and icy conditions on the Cobequid Pass and in New Brunswick well into May, and didn’t want to have to face those conditions myself when driving a fully loaded car or trailer. In addition, I was in a musical in Eastern Passage through the first week of March, and couldn’t really start serious move preparations until that show had closed.
I’d finished packing most of my books and was confidently looking forward to giving my notice at the end of March and proceeding with the move at the end of May, when the first COVID case was diagnosed in the province, just before the middle of the month. At that point, neither I nor anyone else had any idea how long the pandemic would last or what effect it would have on one’s ability to move from one province to another. In the face of so many unknowns, I decided to put the move on hold for one month and await further developments. At the end of April, with Canadian cases mounting into the thousands and still no clear sense of whether the move would even be physically possible in two months’ time, I put it on hold for another month.
But by the end of May, things had improved enough to allow the move to go back on the agenda again. At this point, Nova Scotia had a total of 1054 confirmed cases—only 15 fewer than it has now (August 2). Of those confirmed cases, only 18 remained active, and all but four of those active cases were connected to the Northwood Long Term care facility in North End Halifax. As my detailed plague journal outlines in more detail, the province was by this time contemplating a broad reopening of businesses and services. I saw no reason to delay the move any longer.
There remained, however, the problem of New Brunswick, which had for some time been turning away visitors at its borders. I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of loading up a car or trailer, only to be turned back at the border—especially not after having given up my apartment and having nowhere to stay. But a call to New Brunswick’s Public Safety Department confirmed that that would not be the case. People driving across New Brunswick to move to another province were permitted to do so, providing they had a letter attesting to their new residence in their new province, and providing they drove straight through, without stopping for the night. (Stops for meals, gas, and the calls of nature were permitted). Though I was not completely happy with this rule, which meant I would need to stop the first night in Amherst, N.S., in order to make it across the province of New Brunswick in one day, I figured I could live with it. Furthermore, there was always the possibility of an easing of restrictions by the time I actually came to make my move. With this in mind, I wrote the move back onto my schedule as a “definite,” planning to give my two months’ notice at the end of June, which in fact I did. As an added bonus, by the beginning of July, the four Atlantic provinces had established an interprovincial “bubble,” by means of which a resident of any Atlantic province who had not travelled outside the region or been exposed to the virus could freely enter any other. Now I’ll be able to drive across New Brunswick in civilized, even leisurely fashion, stopping in Fredericton to spend the night and then moving on to Riviere du Loup, Quebec, for my final night on the road.
Given that the pandemic was bound to delay my move one way or the other, Nova Scotia was probably the best place I could have spent those months of delay. Overall, I don’t see how things could have worked out much better for me during the pandemic than they did. Although Nova Scotia did experience over 1000 cases, the vast majority of patients did not require hospitalization, and at no point was the health care system near total collapse, as it was in certain parts of Quebec and Ontario at the pandemic’s height—not to mention most of the U.S. It was easy to stay as safe as possible simply by avoiding public transit and keeping my visits to grocery, drug, and liquor stores and the bank as infrequent as I could. Even after the parks were closed at the end of March, there were still many beautiful trails and cut-throughs on which to walk, and the climate was equable enough so I was able to walk, for close to an hour, at least four days out of five. Being able to get regular, vigorous exercise was a key part of maintaining my sanity throughout the lockdown days.
As for the health care system, while like health care systems across the country, it lay dormant through most of the pandemic, with non-emergency surgeries and diagnostic procedures put on hold, it, or enough of it, was there for those times when I really needed it. Hit by a major anxiety attack, which kept me up an entire night in the middle of April, I was able to get in to my regular clinic to see one of the duty doctors, who prescribed me the right drug to calm me down. The Emergency room was also there when I needed it, late in July. A hernia that I had thought only a minor nuisance and occasional inconvenience had suddenly flared up, after two probably inadvisable tennis sessions in the same week. Unable to bear the pain, or to push the hernia back to its proper place, I sought help at Emergency, and within three and a half hours had received it.
Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the surgery I obviously needed. But the highly-skilled ER doctor was able to massage the giant lump back into a safe place, using a technique that she showed me and which I have used, more or less successfully, ever since. I call it “wrestling the turtle.” She also managed to convince me that I would probably be able to get by without surgery for a couple more months, until I arrived in Quebec and could have the hernia seen to there. While not completely reassured, I figured I could still get on with my move as scheduled, providing I got help with the heavy physical parts of the job.
Once again, during the pandemic, Nova Scotia had proven to be a haven and a refuge for me. I felt as safe and secure here as I would have almost anywhere in the world. The things about Nova Scotians that have normally irritated me—the social conservatism, the extreme deference to authority, the intellectual timidity—were actually assets during the pandemic. But interestingly enough, as May turned into June and as active cases in the province dropped to single digits, I would again start finding these traits irritating, as I had for most of my time here. This seemed to me further evidence that it was time to leave.
It was good to know that I had a great deal on an apartment and a wonderful girl friend waiting for me “on the other side.” Knowing that I had these, but could well lose them if I shilly-shallied too long, proved a spur to my flagging will when, sometime around mid-May, I began to wonder if the pandemic would ever end, and if I would ever be able to make the move safely. Was living in Nova Scotia really all that bad that I wanted to take the risk of moving? Fortunately, at that point, I was able to step back from my immediate situation, and appreciate that the same things that had bothered me about Metro Halifax for many years would continue to bother me once the pandemic had ended. Despite superficial appearances, nothing here had really changed. I would continue to be a misfit, not even comfortable in my own apartment, into which I was ashamed to invite guests, as long as I stayed in the province.
Over the years, I’ve come up with two distinct images of Nova Scotia in general and Metro Halifax in particular, images that may help explain my relationship to the province and city. The first is that of a sweet, charming, lovely woman about 40 points below my IQ level. The second is that of a community college, an institution offering a broad range of introductory experiences, but little in the way of in-depth experience for students needing or wanting to specialize. For years, it was the first of those images that held sway. In recent years, however, I have more and more leaned toward the latter image, as I discover that for all its considerable surface charm, the province remains structurally underdeveloped if not undeveloped, with the result that there are few opportunities for those with serious ambitions of any kind. Those few opportunities that do exist must be carefully husbanded and rationed among the area’s “lifers,” leaving few if any open for us “come from aways (CFAs)” who were not born here.
I won’t for a moment deny that life is easy here; undoubtedly that is one of the things that brings people back after years away. But ease of living, while a good thing, is not a substitute for intellectual opportunities and an emotional depth to life and to relationships. As becomes clearer and clearer to me each day I remain here, I am simply in a different intellectual and emotional league from the vast majority of Nova Scotians, few of whom share my intellectual background, emotional intensity, or drive to excel in writing and theatre.
Things that I will miss about Nova Scotia include the fresh sea breezes, the sound of foghorns, the relatively moderate climate, Point Pleasant Park, Halifax Public Gardens, the history museum at Lake Charlotte, the year-round availability of high-quality fresh seafood, the low food prices at No-Frills in Dartmouth, the Immigration Museum at Pier 21, the Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg, the occasional sounds of bagpipe music, the more frequent sounds of Celtic music of all sorts, the great helpfulness of the staff at all the city’s public libraries, and the friendliness and basic decency of the Nova Scotians whom one meets casually, even if, with the vast majority of people, that consideration and concern extend only to the surface of life.
Most of all, I shall miss the large, often chilly Lido pool at the Waegwoltic tennis club. Throughout most of the past decade, the Lido has been my shield and my refuge, especially at those times when, as now, I have not been able to play tennis. For over a decade, the Lido’s waters have continued to soothe aching knees, ankles, hips, and even wonky hernias such as the one I’m now experiencing. While there will be other museums in West Quebec and Ottawa, other places to hear music and to dance, and to find and enjoy fresh seafood, there will be no Lido, or anything remotely close to it. My last swim there will be a sad moment, indeed.
Things I won’t miss in my new home include the Armdale Rotary, or whatever it is now known as in the New Dispensation, the parking lot at the Waegwoltic, and the frequent strangulated chaos of bridge traffic, typically resulting from the untimely closure of one or the other of HRM’s two cross-harbour bridges. I shall also not miss many Nova Scotians’ blind submission to authority, whether that authority in fact knows what it is doing or not, most Nova Scotians’ poor communication skills, and the Nova Scotia turn signal, which starts when the car is about halfway into the turn and ends three seconds later. I shall definitely not miss the province’s literary community, which has barely acknowledged my existence, or the tennis side of the Waeg, which has since my hip surgeries a few years back given me a steady diet of marginalization. And I’ll be happy to bid farewell to the nepotism and extreme cliquishness displayed by many (though not all) of the area’s community theatre companies over the past three or four years. Who knows where my theatre career might have gone had three or four directors (who shall remain nameless) simply cast parts as the playwrights intended that they be cast?
Most of all, I won’t miss the province’s dating scene, which with one or two exceptions has been such a trial over the past decade. The near-constant rejection I’ve encountered, rejection that has ranged from a cavalier dismissiveness of anything I’ve had to say to downright abusiveness, had for some time the effect of making me doubt myself and my worth as a male.
For me, the beginning of wisdom arrived when I realized that the women I was corresponding with weren’t actually interested in a real relationship as such; most were seeking only casual companionship. My suspicions on this head were fully confirmed in a conversation I had with a bridge partner, who allowed as how the vast majority of unattached older women in the province weren’t really interested in sex. While this struck me as odd, even bizarre, it actually explained quite a bit about my persistently negative experiences on the dating sites, and confirmed the wisdom of my decision to leave. My far more positive experience on the dating sites since changing my address from Nova Scotia to Metro Ottawa has provided further confirmation on that score.
At the end of the day, I cannot be myself and live here. I need to go somewhere where I can be myself, and Ottawa/West Quebec to me offers a far better chance of being that place. Not that I won’t always love Nova Scotia, because I will, as one will love a tender sweetheart with whom things just didn’t quite work out. Indeed, I could well imagine coming back for a month or a season, in the summer, for one-off writing stints or theatre gigs. But the bottom line is that for me, Nova Scotia must be a mistress rather than a wife.
I see my impending departure from a better perspective when I realize that I actually need to leave now for much the same reason I needed to leave in 1978, at a time when I had few issues with anyone in the province. I left then because I needed a job, and there were no job opportunities for a new Ph.D. in English. Indeed, there were virtually no professional opportunities of any kind available. Had there been any, I probably wouldn’t have left. As it was, the perilous state of the job market forced me to move to Pennsylvania to take up the only teaching job I was offered.
Recognizing the fundamental similarity between my situation in 1978 and my current situation has made it easier to accept my need to leave. Though the past decade’s slights, rejections, and marginalizations can’t be totally discounted, such a recognition moves us beyond the realm of slights and rejections. While that recognition hasn’t been easy to arrive at, it’s an essential part of my post-retirement growth. Understanding what it is I need, and why my present environment, beautiful though it is, cannot provide it, has finally freed me for my best shot at a successful closing chapter of my life.
Copyright © 2020, Jon Peirce
Dartmouth, N.S., July-August, 2020
 Though this was, admittedly, an extraordinary occurrence, I’ve seen snow flurries and near-zero temperatures on the Cobequid Pass as late as the second weekend in June.
 (Update as of September 7). I did indeed get the help I needed, and was able to complete the move pretty much without incident. Meanwhile, I’ve been given an early November date for surgery at the Shouldice Hernia Clinic in Thornhill, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. While I’m not enthralled at the idea of having to wait two more months for my surgery, I’ll probably be able to manage OK, having mastered the technique of “wrestling the turtle” and having acquired a better sense of what I can and can’t do physically.