Celebrating a strong, creative, resilient Lunenburg County
NOW, MORE THAN EVER...
Story and photo Emily Bowers
In the winter of 2015, that snowy season of endless accumulation, I flew home to Nova Scotia for a brief visit from Johannesburg, where I was living at the time. On the way in, there was a delay that kept me overnight in Toronto. And on the way out, there was another delay when the snowbound Halifax runway was shut down after a plane skidded off on landing the night before. Somewhere on that snowy trip of grim airports and climatic dislocation I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I was done with being away.
I had, by that point, taken more flights than I could ever count.
I took forgettable domestic connections between Halifax and Toronto during my university years and further afield for work and holidays. And by the winter of our province’s collective discontent, I’d spent a decade flying into and out of Africa — mainly Ghana, where I lived for about eight years, and later South Africa, when Johannesburg was home.
Home was a fluid concept by 2015. Like so many Maritimers I packed my bags after high
school and headed out. My parents got used to annual visits and in my Africa years I tried to make those trips in the summer, to avoid a weather shock as much as possible.
But that year, 2015, I decided to come home in March when I was working on my master’s degree thesis and wanted the comfort of my childhood home for a last push to my deadline. Because even after half of my life away, the old house on top of the hill in New Germany was still home, an undeniable fact made ever more so as I watched the snow pile up and pin us down. On that trip I belonged in a way I never quite did in all those places, all those years away. I was a Maritimer, hunkered down with my family and riding out the storm.
I went back to Johannesburg but within a few months I plotted my departure. When my work permit was up for renewal, I quietly dragged my feet on the process, knowing I was putting my ducks in order. In Africa I worked for Bloomberg, the financial news agency, and while I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my job from a remote desk in Nova Scotia, I received an offer from a growing US company that had a network of work-from-home reporters and editors all over the world.
It didn’t occur to me, in 2015, to think about whether the internet would be a factor. I discussed a transition with my parents, who made space for me in New Germany and that hot July, I soon realized – internet was a prized resource for rural Lunenburg County. I was competing with my parents for their connection. With kids in the area home on summer break. My job, being largely text-based, was still manageable but things dragged when pages were bogged down with ads, charts and flickering stock prices.
Eight months later, I became a homeowner of a small bungalow in Hebbville. I bought it for reasons both sentimental and practical. The sentimental: it was the home of my grandparents and the place of my last memories of them. It was the place where my mother and my uncles grew up. The practical: I could afford it and being just minutes from Bridgewater it had the best type of internet connection on offer on the South Shore.
That was in 2016. I tucked away in Hebbville and I got the internet hooked up. I streamed Netflix and watched live sports and worked at my remote job, the one that had me writing news far from Nova Scotia’s shores but the connection made it possible for me to do the job as well as any of my coworkers. I settled into village life as best as I could, which for me meant joining the Hebbville Fire Department. Our small but mighty unit, known for our yellow trucks, gave me roots in the area, much needed because I underestimated how difficult it would be to create new roots in an old place. I was an adult living in my childhood region. At times I longed for the cities I’d left, for the world I craved at 18 when I graduated from Park View Education Centre and headed to Toronto and then further on to Accra, Ghana, and Johannesburg, South Africa. I longed for the all-night diners with bottomless cups of coffee in Toronto. For people watching at Johannesburg’s Arts on Main creative commons and dancing at Accra’s best clubs with a stop on the way home for kelewele — deep fried plantain sold on the late-night roadside.
I was back home, double the age I was when I left and still longing for the city: if not an all-night diner then a coffee shop open past 3pm. A bookstore that sells more books than games and coffee mugs. A theatre or an art gallery. I would sometimes get lost in the things we don’t have, or don’t have enough of, and more than once in the years since I’ve been home I’ve thought that perhaps teenaged me got it right by getting away.
But then I saw the sun set over Crescent Beach and heard the loons croon on Lake Mush-a-Mush. And I smelled the fresh spring greens flourishing as I hiked on the trails that course through the Acadian forest. I could do all the people watching I want in Mahone Bay and find all the books I want to read in Lunenburg and LaHave. And I picked over the handcrafts in shops like my mother’s in New Germany, Village Glassworks, and sipped craft beer in the Bridgewater bars like King Street Beer and FirkinStein’s, where my musician boyfriend Sam Wentzell plays solo shows and with his band, Weather Advisory.
Because this is a place where local musicians are supported. As are artisans like my mother, who has been in business for four decades, and writers like me, who can create books of poetry and novels and read them in cozy nooks along the ocean.
The support has its limits though. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sam transitioned his business as a music teacher online, and both he and his students dealt routinely with connection problems that would delay or derail his weekly lessons. When my family attempted to gather for Zoom calls, my sisters in Antigonish and Ketch Harbour were able to dial in, but my parents in New Germany would be a frozen image on the screen, jerking in and out of the conversation.
I was lucky during the lockdown because I was almost five years into my work-from-home job, so I was used to the solo days. But I watched as friends struggled to transition their children to home schooling and themselves to the isolation that the pandemic brought, battles made all the more challenging in our land of unreliable connectivity, where living a few kilometres in one direction or another can make all the difference in linking a lifeline to the outside world. My creative writing group, based at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater, transitioned to Zoom but two members who lived within half an hour of the library in opposite directions had poor enough connections that video chats weren’t an option. This is a minor complaint in the grand scheme of COVID-19 but we needed those connections all the more in 2020.
And now I need them to grow my business, as do most entrepreneurs who call the South Shore home. I’m a writing coach and editor as well as a financial journalist. These are things I could do from anywhere in the world with the right infrastructure, and I choose to do them here.
Because the South Shore should be a choice. It should be an option for workers who will never go back to an office and students who need to finish that one last class. It should be a choice for the knitter who wants to sell handmade socks on Etsy and for the therapist who wants to see clients without driving through a snowstorm. For musicians like Sam and Weather Advisory who put their album recorded in rural Lunenburg county on Spotify and YouTube where it attracts listeners from Texas to Singapore.
I chose to end my life away that winter of 2015 because the South Shore was a choice for me, for the job that I had been offered and for the life I wanted to build. It’s not a perfect place but we choose to live here and through our choice, w