Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Farewell to Nova Scotia

Halifax, I tried.

I am very excited to pack up my little family and head to Toronto in January to work an amazing, amazing contract. It’s a great gig in a great city that will help me decide what comes next.

Halifax, I tried.

This city has been my life and I have poured myself into it.

This is the city where my entire body grew in and outside of my mother, but never very tall, the city where I skinned my knees and biked around nowhere in the fourth grade just because, the city where my best friend and I built forts in forests so thick they might still exist somewhere, the city where I’ve buried time capsules, the city where I felt worthless, the city where I learned I was worth something, the city where I fell in love, the city where I first cried.

This is the city where I co-chaired then chaired the Active Transportation Advisory Committee, the city whose food feels like a full body experience, the city where I went to school, the city where I gained skills outside the classroom, the city where I got my first job, then my second, then another… where I spent that money in local shops, the city that I was always happy to come back to, the city where I started my little family, the city where I met amazing people who did amazing things, the city where I poured countless hours a week into volunteering for people and things who could help me stay in this city, the city that helped me bring visions to life, the city that has helped me so much, the city that I helped whenever I could.

I fought really hard for what we needed to stay in Halifax. I saved my money, I got the best job I could, I worked a second in my spare time. I started interviewing for the next contract before the current one ended. I cobbled together a happy life here that is great, but entirely unsustainable if I ever want my little family to be any bigger. If you’re doing okay in Halifax, you can have the best brunch you’ll ever taste every weekend but you can’t have a baby.

I worked a very short contract in Toronto this past fall. My first weekend, I walked across the entire city, as my step counter can quantify. I got bagels, I got dumplings, I saw friends, and at 7 in the evening, just as I was about to go home, I took the bus to High Park to see the sunset, because I had a transit pass, and I saw the bus coming, and the bus said High Park, and I knew that another bus home would just show up.

In Halifax, there is so much greatness but also so much to consider for every single action. 25 years in this city have made me an exceptional planner, mastering a transit system that is neither consistent nor logical, preparing for work that won’t last, finding new best friends every year because no one stays. In Halifax it's hard to be present; if you're not thinking ahead it's your fault for not being prepared.

Halifax, it is breaking my heart and my identity to leave. I know what happens when people leave. I know we turn against them, we say it was their problem, not ours, we pretend they just had to try harder. I’m not saying that if situations change I won’t be back, I’m just saying it’s looking harder than it makes sense for me to admit to myself. I took my love for this city and made it a series of verbs that I practiced every day to try to stay here.

Halifax, I am your latest unlovable, ungrateful daughter, but don’t you say I never tried.


Here is my personal check-list of things that Halifax needs to consider to retain youth.
I have worked hard on all of these issues. Perhaps you can take up the fight. Perhaps someone might read this and think this makes sense now that I’ve left.

-Transit. Every other bus trip makes you feel like you would be better sawing off a arm with a spoon. The transit system here is so bad for a city of it’s size it almost feels like an insult. Recently, my partner and I decided to try to buy a tablet as a present for his grandfather. Halifax has gutted its downtown to the benefit of large business parks, so we tried to take a bus to said large business park one Friday evening. Three busses, all headed in the same direction all came within the same 2 minutes. The next ones came in 30 to 40 minutes.

We did not buy the tablet that night.

-The cost of rent. I know, I know, I’m moving to Toronto, how dare I complain about rent? Unfortunately, with the transit system being so bad in Halifax it really limits where youth are able to live without a car, making the cost of rent on the peninsula and now even downtown Dartmouth completely out of whack with the available salaries here. We could move further out of the city but car payments and gas gobble up any savings. Youth can't afford the home boomers want to retire out of when rent for a one bedroom apartment can easily eat up half of your income.

-The insistence that entrepreneurship is the answer to everything. Lots of entrepreneurs are strong, smart people with lots of grit that can drastically improve the economy, but being repeatedly told that this is the answer for youth with sky rocketing debt is a slap in the face. You can’t pay student loans with hustle alone. This is often a solution tossed out in a talk with very little tangible support, just a little suggestion to imply that we're just not working hard enough. I admire the amazing entrepreneurs in this province. You have worked so hard to make Nova Scotia amazing, sometimes against very difficult circumstances. Entrepreneurship is wonderful.

But if an upper middle class white person with a pension never says the word hustle again it will be too soon.

-The idea that every time someone does something different it’s an affront to others instead of a lifestyle that works for them. This one is a little harder to explain, but I think it resonates well. If you bike as a hobby, that’s great, that’s a hobby. If you bike in the city to get from A to B, it means you might use a bike lane, which might lead to more bike lanes. And that is deeply political. So fuck you. There is a very deep-rooted fear of the other here. Sometimes it manifests itself against a method of transportation, and sometimes it’s against entire races and cultures of people. I do believe in Maritime hospitality, but frequently we love the person and fear the idea. We lose so much in not realizing that ideas are what make communities great.

-Speaking of political, I hesitate to pin all of the problems of an economically depressed region on one particular government, so I won’t, because I would be wrong, but I will say this: this provincial government is bad. It’s not scrapping the graduate retention rebate and not reinvesting a comparable figure in youth, it’s not the tuition reset that make education even less affordable, it’s not the arbitrary axing of credits that drive my friends out of province… it’s all of those things and more. I don’t think the government actively hates youth, I just think they don’t care about us very much, but both net the same results.

I am the kind of person who believes in the importance of government and respect the people who put themselves forward to be part of it, but I have so many angry questions. Why are you picking a fight with my healthcare worker mother? My best friend who is a teacher? My drinking buddies who all work in the film industry? That random person out there who just wants to cross the street? And they’re not logical fights, they’re not fights that seem all that well thought out, and the recent budget forecasts suggests they’re not effective either. I can’t settle down in a place where the direction of the government feels like a drunk person waving a knife around, but with my new salary I can donate some money to people I think will make competent decisions so that I might one day be able to return.

-No Bruce Springsteen. I have spent 25 years in Halifax and have yet to meet Bruce Springsteen. It’s time to move.

Every city has its problems and I believe many have issues that are similar to Halifax’s. My problems with the city are an inevitable part of loving a place so much and being so excited to meet a new place while wanting so badly to stay.

Here are some things I will miss:
  • The close knit community. So many people. So, so, so many people have made this home feel even homier, and plenty of them weren't even 'from' here. 
  • Our amazing apartment.
  • Getting a lemon square from Jane’s and a London fog at the new library and looking off into the water.
  • My family.
  • The beer. It is truly the best beer. Fight me, Ontario.
  • My current sense of identity.
  • Probably you. 

Before I leave the city, I will share a very, very detailed list of my favourite places and things to do (beyond just the new library, I promise.) (But it will be on the list.)

Halifax, I love you. I’ll be back for more than a visit one day, I hope. Halifax, I'm sorry and I understand if you don't like me, and if you'll never treat me the same way again, because I'm one of those who left. 

Halifax, I love you. I promise I tried.


MotherOfGooses said...

Really love your writing and perspective. "The hustle" gets to me too.& love the drunk leaders with knives image...

James Cass said...

Many of the reasons that you stated in the article are why Halifax has become a "stopgap" or "layover" city of sorts. Not just for the thousands of youth who travel here for school, but for the thousands who have grown up here and can't make it work, even if they tried to or not.

Great, insightful article.

blackdogfilms said...

You're a good writer. I don't know you but Halifax misses you already.

Tim said...

Hi Allison

I've spoken with you at political party meetings. You sound in person as you do in text - sharp, outspoken, someone with good, fresh ideas - a lateral thinker perhaps. In our party you were a rare oasis of desperately needed youth. I probably know some of your film industry friends.

A close film industry friend of mine left Halifax 3 months ago for T.O. He's back temporarily to close up his apartment. Apart from visiting family, he and his girlfriend won't be back - another casualty of the dishonest, arrogant and reckless way the Liberals destroyed a legal, flourishing film industry then told them to "Get over it!".

When they were last in office they drove nurses away, and they restricted medical school intake in order to cut health care costs. The amalgamated Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford into HRM on the theory that it would save money, and it cost a fortune. Seeing them doing the same thing to Health Authorities is not reassuring. There may be good reasons they were out of office for 15 years. I suspect voters angry at Dexter and who remembered the much maligned 'Rodney' simply forgot why the Liberals had been consigned to the wilderness for so long - if they ever knew.

You're right in that they evidently don't give a hoot about young people. The release of the tuition cap attests to that. Of course most of the film people leaving town are young families. All that seems to matter to them is simple minded austerity. They have all the vision of a spreadsheet macro. No longer your problem once you leave - but then you are moving to another Liberal jurisdiction with even worse debt than ours courtesy of decades of the McGuinty and Wynne governments. I can't believe how the confident, capable Province of Ontario has come down in the years since I lived there. They used to be called the Engine of Confederation.

I agree about transit here, but I don't know how to improve existing services. I can't believe the half serious talk about spending money on commuter rail while the harbour which has access to so many neighborhoods plus Burnside goes almost unused. We have the oldest continuously running ferry service in North America and in all that 265 years we have added exactly one small, peak hour ferry route. It's a much larger city but you should see how Sydney, Australia uses harbor ferry services.

I've come to believe there is a latent mean-spiritedness here. You don't have to scratch too far to find it. I've speculated it has something to do with how hard it is to make a living or float a project because money is scarce to most Haligonians, and people sometimes feel your success must come at their expense. Pity, really - the same people can at other times be so generous and friendly.

Anyhow Allison, I hope you find what you're looking for in Toronto! I lived in The Beaches for the first 3 years I lived in Canada, and while it's not an especially pretty city, it's a very exciting one with lost of interesting things happening all the time and so many great places to eat. Plus of course it has the amazing TTC to get you from one to the next. We were recently in Montreal, and after decades in Halifax, I'd forgotten just how much a really good transit system brought to a city.

Take care and bonne chance


Heritage said...

Poignant, powerful and beautifully written. Ivany's "now or never" in a nutshell!

hatjunkie said...

Allison, your post broke my heart. I have been waging quite the battle here in NS, which you could read about on my blog. There is such a sense in rural NS that we need to keep everything positive and not discuss conflict. Good for you for speaking about your experience. I truly hope that stories like yours will be a catalyst for action. I am taking a little break from battling for now, but I will catch my breath and get back on the horse soon. I'm at a different stage of life and having my own business, I have the privilege of staying here, but it is our responsibility to make this province a better and more welcoming place for future generations. I hope all those that can stay here will work to make it possible for you and your family to return. And when you do, we will welcome you back with open arms.

Mario Eleftheros said...

You have always been a strong advocate for so many worthy areas. You have never been afraid to be yourself (even as a young junior high teen) and have always handled yourself with such maturity. Halifax needs more people like you and our loss in Toronto's gain. Best of luck!

Mario Eleftheros said...

"Is Toronto's gain"

Tina said...

This is a wonderful post, Allison: Insightful, moving, passionate & fair. I lived in Toronto in my twenties, and I know you will flourish there. I'm so delighted to hear that you've found a position that will allow you to spread your wings and thrive. But I understand the emotional cost. I grew up in SW Ontario and although I have lived in Halifax/HRM for many years now, I really enjoyed my life in Ontario. I think you will too. We've only met a few times, and briefly, but I will always be a big fan of your energy and ideas, of you.

I know I will follow your adventure on social. Wishing you all the very best!


Jukebox Ninja said...

I came to Halifax 7 years ago from Newfoundland. It was a huge step up in opportunity back then, when it came to my artistic endeavours. I've watched the city grow smaller in every way since I have come here. None of the original young folk I met here, live here. I read your blog and it made me emotional.
It hurts to admit that the place I once saw as the land of opportunity, is shrinking and changing in a way that other places are beginning to look like a better fit.

Plante-Fitch said...

Brilliant in all ways. Feirce & true. And I am sad you are gone. Write up a storm,write us a book.

Sarah Morse-McNeil said...

As a recently 'repatriated' Maritimer, you'll find there is great Craft brews in Ontario - don't be afraid to explore outside of the GTA to find them! I feel for your fight to stay, as it is similar to the fight to return after being away. So far my partner and I have been fortunate enough to find good jobs, but I agree, the math on having a family here does not really add up. Good luck in TO!

Don Jones said...

i grew up and love Halifax AND I live in Toronto which over the last five years I have fallen in love with. It is now a great city for sure - with its own share of problems as well of course like any city. I stayed at my mom's place two weeks ago for a nine day visit 'home'. it was great seeing family and friends and visiting and working in the new library twice. Its the best community library I have ever been in! = i love it and I visit libraries in most of the cities i visit as I have always enjoyed libraries. Congrats to the visionaries that built it!!

Four times on my recent trip I said I was living in Toronto and the people said 'OMG what a horrible city, or it must be terrible to live there, or OMG the traffic, or what a jungle.' I began to expect it. At first I was annoyed and then i felt it was an attitude in some people that was sad and small, as if 'we Haligonians' have a lock on what it is like to live a good life. I love Halifax and may go back some day. I knows the nooks and crannies because I combed through them growing up. I love the trees, the universities, the park and the central gardens. I love walking Halifax in the sunshine but also in the rain. Its a cool place. But the general attitude that it must be better than the neighbourhoods of Toronto is a sad joke. The neighbourhoods here are so vital and thriving with young people (that is not me by the way) that are doing so many things well and in their spirit, with communities of people whether gay or straight, or ethnicities that are developing roots for their culture, just so much vibrancy and difference and openness to ideas that it only saddened me when so many people just assumed that I live in Toronto for work, i as an entrepreneur for the last 30 years I work in Toronto and different cities true, but I live in Toronto beaches and I love it so much and the generous warm open people who live here. There are SO many great places to live in the world, Toronto is one of them, but Halifax needs to open its mind a bit that while it IS a great place in many ways, it does not have a lock on how to live, and it needs to be more open to other ideas, ways of living and fresh perspectives. I appreciated the Ivany report a lot. I dont know if its now or never, but I think its now or the crawl back to prosperity and to shaping a more open culture in some ways will be very long.

This was a beautifully written blog by a talented and thoughtful young woman. We are very fortunate to get her in Toronto and yes it really is Halifax's loss that she is leaving.

Rebecca Jane said...

This is such a beautiful post Allison. I know you will miss Halifax (and I am certain Halifax will miss you too!), but I am also excited for you to embark on a new adventure in a new city where you can grow and learn and experience and give back to TO as much as you did in Halifax.

Cheering for you from PEI!


DrewO'Hara said...

Beautiful post. I jumped to Toronto in 2008 and haven't stopped looking back. The good news is that you don't have to leave your maritime identity behind... There are lots of us here for you!

Martin Miller said...

This is well-written, accurate, and sad, and it is certain that there are going to be more letters like this in the future. I left for family and for home, but the reasons you mentioned - the fear of things that are different, the lack of active transport, the attitude towards young graduates - in this article hastened the decision. Maybe one day things will change.

(PS: I hope you're not judging Ontario beer based on The Beer Store. That would just be cruel.)

Scott Simpson said...

There's so much I miss about Halifax, and so much that is rotten and disgusting about Ontario, but your assessment is entirely accurate. I don't think you'll like it more here in Ontario, but you may find more opportunity.

If you ask around, you CAN find decent donairs here.

seagell said...

Check out Blood Brothers brewery when you get here. I missed the Maritime beers when I first moved to TO, but the craft beer scene has gotten much better in the past 5 years. Blood Brothers is new and I've only had one of their beers but it was a white hot chocolate stout and it was the best seasonal brew I've had in a lonnnngggg time.

Anyway, yeah I sympathize with you. I moved here to work in advertising and while something inside of me longs for NS, Toronto has been really really great to me. And now I can afford to fly home to Shelburne a few times a year. And my TO friends LOVE visiting with me.

Martin Sills said...

Sorry to see you leave. You're one of the people this place needs more of.

Howard Beye said...

Sharp and to the point. I came in 2001 and love this joint. It's a grinder economy and as long as the wealth coagulates in the hands of the upper dogs it will continue. Good luck to ye. Howard

Alanna Griffin said...

Thank you.

Thank you so much for putting in to words the feelings I've had.

Thank you for being unapologetic, honest, and kind to us and this place.

I wish you all the luck. Hope Toronto treats you well.

Jo-Ann Bailey said...

I'm far from young, but I have a daughter who I encouraged to take a position in Vancouver when she found herself working low level jobs after university. I think she cried every day for a month. Years later she loves the city and her life there. And, though it breaks my heart that my only girl child lives so far away and I don't get to experience the daily interactions between mother and daughter, I don't ever want her to look back.

Your description of this drunken-like government almost made me laugh, if it weren't so gut-wrenching to watch them tear this province and it's people apart, day by day. Driving the average and poor further and further into the ground while dividing the spoils amongst their friends. It's even more disheartening to see the number of average joes who have bought into their bullshit. It's Harper all over again, except that these guys are not nearly as bright. It's so discouraging when idiots get elected.

Go west. Thrive. Come back to the beaches in the summer. And stick with your writing.

seagell said...

Another issue I have is that, yeah sure, we can tell young people to become entrepreneurs all we want. But as someone who can work remotely, I would love to be able to work from my parents place in Shelburne, but the infrastructure is just not there. Their "high-speed internet" provided by Eastlink is a joke. An expensive joke. The government made all kinds of promises that they did not live up to in that department. If rural NS stands a change, something needs to change.

Catriona Talbot said...

Alison, I've only seen you once, at the NS Museum of Natural History, at a presentation of the documentary film the Debert Debunker, to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1984 protest, where you gave a talk from the perpective of the next generation of peace workers. I was blown away by your passion, your analysis, your clarity of expression, and your intelligence. If someone like you can't get a job here that matches your amazing skill set, we are truly doomed. I've watched my daughter and many of her friends fight the same battle, and it's ridiculous how much talent, drive and energy we are wasting in this community. I have seen others go off, usually to Toronto, and come back here a few years later, finally having won recognition for all they have to offer, simply because they made good somewhere else. It's a game of Russian roulette we are playing though, because many of them never do come back. I hope you will be one who does return.

Anonymous said...

Toronto is absolutely a stunning city! Old brownstones, contemporary architecture. Just because we don't have cedar siding in an abundance does not mean we aren't pretty to look at. Every neighbourhood has something different to offer, whether it be the beautifully gratified brick walls of Kensington or the beautiful, century old brick homes in the annex, high park, and cabbage town. I lived in Hali for five years, and i can tell you that both places are unequivocally spectacular.

Lewis Humphreys said...

This is an old story and no one is to blame. Halifax is an amazing city and everyone who lives there is lucky to be there. I write this as a Haligonian living in Tucson. My family first left Nova Scotia for Toronto in 1969. There was a CBC film at the time Goin' Down The Road. It was all about the exit of the young from the homeland. I went back to Dalhousie in 1977 because I missed the Maritimes. Then my band wanted the bright lights and big city in 1981. Then I went back to Dal in 1984 because I loved Dal. But we grow up and experience the world. Its OK to leave home, Everywhere has its drawbacks and things it could improve. But everywhere is beautiful and everywhere is home. Peace.

Pawtuket Pat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
exlorenz said...

Ohhh my. This is very well written. I could add to it, but I don't want to spoil my positive mood right now. I've been here 35 years waiting for things to improve, thinking every year it will get better. I'm an optimist.
I had to give a chuckle when I read about entrepreneurship being the answer because on my meager seniors' OAS pension, I'm not able to sustain myself and will need to do some creative financing including becoming an "entrepreneur." So because Halifax & NS in general never gave me a chance with my BSc, MEd and other certificates and diplomas, I am faced with starting another career at 65.
Why didn't I leave before? Because I thought the work situation would improve. The scenery had a magnetic control over me. And the weather. I don't want to go someplace colder. I want to go some place warmer. Too bad Canada didn't buy the Turks and Caicos when they had a chance to a few decades ago.

Good luck to you Alison. I wish you well and hope Toronto continues to be good to you.

Expat said...

Alison, found your blog through the Lowe piece in the Herald.

Congratulations! The entire world is about to open up for you in ways you never thought possible living in Halifax. I reluctantly left 24 years ago for the exact same reasons. The economy was terrible, couldn't even get a job if you knew someone, businesses were closing, etc, etc, the same old story. Prior to leaving, each one of my friends all said the same thing - I'm going to stay and see if things pick up. Flash forward over two decades later and things are worse.

Year after year, since I left, I've seen similar "Farewell to Nova Scotia" stories as yours. I even saw an article this year that posed the question, Is Nova Scotia becoming the next Detroit? The reality is, Nova Scotia was becoming the next Detroit over two decades ago when I left. That's WHY I left.

I'm sorry you had to leave. As you begin your next chapter, understand that Halifax didn't suddenly become this way. You're simply seeing the reality of "what is" that others don't want to address. Once you've been down the rabbit hole, you have two choices: 1. Accept that the rabbit hole exists and make new decisions aligned to that reality 2. Deny that the rabbit hole exists and live in fantasy with the hope that someday the rabbit hole will just go away.

Underneath it all, you're changing while Halifax remains the same. Don't feel guilty. The world is about to open up for you in ways you never thought possible. Good luck!!

Sorren said...

From someone who also tried but inevitably had to leave, thank you. It's heartbreaking, it hurts & you just want Halifax to love you back but you have to make the decisions that are right for you. This article outlines the love, pain and frustration so many of us feel and I'm so happy you've put it out there. Welcome to Toronto, I'll share my favourite places :)