PART 1: It all started with a trip to England...
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
It all started with a trip to England in September of 2014. As we wandered around the sweet town of Cranbrook where Alan had spent some years as a child, we were feeling the same thing… wouldn’t it be great to live here or somewhere like here? The rolling hills, the historic homes, the charming towns and the gardens, wow, the gardens. We could do this!
Our business is not location dependent and we had already thought about long-term work-vacations as a way to continue to generate income and still see the world. It’s a wonderful position to be in – it opens up so many possibilities for a good work/life balance; with high-speed internet and our digital world, more and more businesses like ours can operate remotely and still provide amazing service and quality to their clients.
It started a long conversation about what we truly wanted next in our life. We were living in Calgary and loved Alberta – the friendly ‘get-er-done’ attitude of the people, the nicely-sized city with great amenities, food and beverage culture (not to mention the sensible approach to liquor legislation), the low taxation and of course, the incredible Rocky Mountains that you can see from the city. We were often in the mountains of Alberta and BC – skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, mountain biking and taking photos. We loved kayaking the breath-taking pristine turquoise lakes and rivers… and were thrilled by the wildlife and the sunny winters.
We were in our 50’s and looking at our “third act” coming up – what did we want that to look like? First of all, we knew we didn't want to retire. We love what we do and can't really imagine NOT being engaged in our work; we had just merged our skills in 2014 and loved building this business together.
We also wanted LAND. Enough land to walk, to have firewood for life, room for outbuildings, gardens and a greenhouse. And WATER. We wanted to look out over water – could be a river, a lake, the ocean... as long as it was a large body of water. We also wanted a peaceful setting – somewhere that we could have a fire pit and a music studio without disturbing neighbours – rural but not remote. We still wanted to be close to an airport, good restaurants and a town with amenities… we didn’t want a trip to the grocery store to be an all-day event.
It began a long search that lasted for a few years. First, we did look at all areas of England, but it proved to be very expensive for what we wanted. Then we looked at Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras… but none of these ideas really resonated with us. We came to the realization that we didn’t want to leave Canada. We love to travel, but when it came to investing in real estate, we felt most comfortable staying in Canada. We looked at BC but again, the property that we had in mind was going to be way too expensive. And although we loved Alberta and the mountains, we were missing water. And the regular hail storms and super short spring and fall make it difficult to have gardens.
In June of 2016, something Alan had heard or read triggered us to look at the East Coast of Canada. We started looking at property online and what a big surprise we got. Land, and lots of it, was available for purchase. Century old homes and older were plentiful. And the prices were so low compared to the west. We started learning everything we could about the Maritime provinces and narrowed in on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Lots of reasons why: high speed internet (very important for our business), the close proximity to the UNESCO town of Lunenburg and the town of Bridgewater with all amenities including the main hospital for the area; interesting variety of land from rugged ocean coasts and beaches to really pretty towns; lots of kayaking options and fresh seafood.
There were several properties available along the LaHave River and we were really drawn to that… the ocean properties looked beautiful, but ... could we drop kayaks in easily? And what about the sea spray and salt in the air, when we were planning a music studio with lots of instruments, including a grand piano? We tagged a number of properties and had our eye on one in particular… a 1916 home that was currently rented as a duplex, with 17.5 acres on the LaHave River.
In June of 2017, we booked a real estate agent, Patricia Price, and flew to Nova Scotia to take a look. Now, here’s the thing that makes most people think we are crazy… neither of us had ever been to Nova Scotia. We had no family there and only one friend who lived in Halifax. But we had heard enough about how friendly and warm the people were, how great the music scene was and how beautiful the province was, and we just knew that we were going to love it.
We stayed in Halifax for a week, met up with Pat to see several properties but we were most interested to see that duplex on the river. When we finally saw it, we fell in love. The house was in better shape than we had hoped – it was solid with a perfectly straight roof. And then we saw the basement – a foundation of huge granite boulders – we hadn’t expected there to be room for the furnace, water tank and a nice area for storing preserves… on the listing it had said ‘crawl space’. So that was a great surprise. The property seemed so perfect for us. It was flat around the house with lots of room to add a studio/garage/workshop and gardens that we wanted, with beautiful wooded areas to the side and back of the property… and the view. Wow, the view. It looked right over Burns Cove – a quiet, protected area on the river – perfect for kayaks or a sailboat or motorboat. The LaHave is a big river that is affected by the tide and flows right down to the ocean.
The house needed to be renovated. It was turned into two separate units, which means the internal staircase was removed probably in the 80s and had been rented as two separate floors since then. But the bones were good. The ceilings were high, the windows were big and the angles in the house added a lot of charm. The exterior was really charming – all original trim.
While we were there, we had an excavator, Lee Weagle, come out and check out the lay of the land – we wanted to make sure that the addition we had in mind would be doable. He was available the next morning and refused to take any payment, discussing the project and who else we should talk to… so generous with his time and we really appreciated it. We also went for a walk up into our woods and marvelled at how pretty it was and how much wood there was just on the ground – we could easily have a wood stove and free firewood for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately, we both picked up a tick and it freaked us out a bit that night… neither of us had ever even seen a tick before and we’d heard it was a big problem in this area. We asked a few people about it and they all assured us that there are lots of things you can do to manage them and besides there are antibiotics you can take if you did start to see any signs of infection, so… we’ve come to the acceptance that there is always something. In Alberta, we always carried bear spray when we were in the mountains because there is always a chance that you may encounter a grizzly – that’s a reality there. We used to see bear scat all the time when we were on the trails. Does it stop you from going hiking? No, you just educate yourself and take all the precautions to protect yourself.
We made an offer and signed the deal on June 24th, 2017 – Alan’s 60th birthday. That night, we celebrated big time – with a lovely dinner in Halifax and a late night at The Lower Deck. Happiness.
We flew back to Alberta and started planning our major life change. Looking back now, it was a brilliant plan and we wouldn’t have changed a thing. The plan was to sell our house in the Spring of 2018, move into a condo for a year and then make the permanent move to NS in Spring of 2019. This would allow us time to pack, move, still keep the business going, and allow time to design what we wanted to build, choose a builder and get everything in place for when we arrived there. It also allowed us time to explore more of Alberta and BC.
We sold our house in the spring of 2018 and it’s a good thing we didn’t try to move to NS at the same time. It was a long winter and there were still 4’ snow banks in front of our house at the end of March, which meant we didn’t actually sell it until well into April. Our agent, Leslie Chan, was terrific and knew that we were flexible on our time; we weren’t under pressure to sell and move right away. And because we were moving clear across the country, she knew that we wanted to sell a lot of our possessions, but encouraged us not to mention it until the house was sold, then give the new owners first dibs.
There was still a ton of purging, yard sales, donations… how did we ever accumulate this much stuff?? While the house was on the market, we secured the rental of a lovely furnished condo downtown – all part of our plan to continue to build our business and generate income with little responsibility. Luckily, the young couple that bought our house were just starting out and wanted a quick closing, and they were keen to buy all our furniture including rugs on the floor and pictures on the walls.