(The street names you’re about to read are fictitious.)
As high school students make their plans to pursue their post-secondary education, some will choose to leave, others to stay, travel or take a year off. Whatever they choose the closer we get to the end of the year the more their excitement level increases as does the anxiety level of their parents.
My son and I visited the new community where he plans to go to school in the fall, for now. Plans change, and that’s perfectly fine, too. I’m not overly familiar with this Nova Scotia community. I’ve only really been there for hockey tournaments. I know where to find the rinks and Tim Hortons. That’s it.
So, we booked an afternoon to see a half-dozen apartments in different parts of the community. First things first: he would need to find a barber. He has great hair it’s kind of his signature and I just knew he couldn’t be truly happy in a community until he finds one he likes. And while he loves his current barber, and it’s not too far away, he can’t very well come home every time he needs a haircut.
I sat in the Barber Shop waiting room talking to another patron, and, as I always do, I began asking questions about this community. He filled me in on all the great and not-so-great things about it. “Don’t live near Fraser Street. Or Edward Road. Make sure to stay away from Patton Drive, too. It's known for its prostitution.” I looked down at my sheet of all the apartments we were going to view right after this haircut, and all of those streets were listed.
Later, after I emerged from the washroom having just hyperventilated in a paper bag, we proceeded to go to all the places the guy in the barbershop recommended told us to avoid. We went for lunch. We checked out some of the bulletin boards filled with all the cultural activities happening in the community: concerts, plays, lectures, and even hockey.
We spent the afternoon walking the streets in the downtown core, and I could see my son’s face light up with a smile and feel my shoulders begin to relax when we found a great apt and truly experienced all that this place will offer him. “This will be fine,” I reassure him and myself.
When new people move to a community, it is essential to seek out an ambassador who is in "the know". I feel as though I am a great ambassador for new people in Lunenburg County. But I'm not the only one, and every community has some. If you don’t know who that person is, you might find them in the local coffee shop, sitting at the bar at the local pub, in the library, or even in the waiting room at the barbershop, just as we did.
It's important for us all to act as an ambassador. Sure, point out the not-so-great things about the community. Every community has a few blemishes. But also, be sure to highlight the great things too, because we have far more of those. And by only highlighting the bad things, you might be leaving someone, hiding the bathroom, with incredible anxiety, breathing into a paper bag.
We found an apartment in an area not mentioned by our new friend. We found a barber, a deli close by and even a pool where he might lifeguard. “Anywhere else before we leave?” I asked him while putting on my seatbelt.
“Nope,” He smiled. Except maybe just a quick drive down Patton Street.”
A few weeks ago, I attended a session on housing in Lunenburg presented by Project Lunenburg. The Lunenburg Fire Hall was packed with people deeply engaged in lively conversation. It was excellent.
The purpose was to talk about some of the issues that the town of Lunenburg faces in terms of housing and offer some creative solutions about what can be done to help solve the issue.
And what is the issue? Simply put, the town needs more housing options. That’s pretty simplified. You can learn more about it at projectlunenburg.ca. Basically, there are too few long terms rentals, plenty of vacancies due to summertime residents, not enough housing options in general, and the feeling that the popularity of Air B&B’s isn’t helping matters. The issue is complicated so the solutions aren’t going to be simple and will require more than one way of tackling the issue.
However, the good news: I was utterly blown away by the commitment of the town to initiate this conversation, by the committee who hosted such a meaningful session and the community who responded to the invitation to be part of the solution. Being at several community engagements, I can say, this one was good! Now, the challenge is to listen.
The voices at my table were diverse. There were seasonal residents, retirees, people looking for options, and of course, myself. While I’m not a resident of the town, it’s my job to help bring more residents here, so I felt it was appropriate to attend. I’m grateful that no one kicked me out. I felt that my perspective was welcome.
The truth is that the feeling of housing insecurity is one I know all too well. I was one such person, 20 years ago, on the hunt for an appropriate rental, having to move to an adjacent town to find one. I know the anxiety that creates, and at least once a week I receive a call from someone just as anxious as I was with a familiar story that I had. I try to connect them with potential landlords. I can’t always help, but in some cases we have.
It’s easy enough to say, just build more housing. The costs of building are only getting more significant making rent prices high. Housing developments are often met with resistance by neighbours. Prohibiting Air B&B’s, even if it was possible, would only create another issue of not enough accommodations, which would significantly impact our most significant economic driver; tourism. So, we’re going to have to get a little more creative.
This is just one example of the creativity I’m suggesting: Occasionally, people come to Lunenburg County for temporary work stays. I recently learned of a medical practitioner who will be joining us for 3-months and is struggling to find temporary housing. Since 14% of dwellings in Lunenburg are owned by seasonal residents, who leave their homes vacant, what if there was a way to take an inventory of the seasonal residents and connect them to the folks who are here temporarily, who might actually love it so much they won’t want to leave?
McAdam, New Brunswick listed 16-lots for the low, low price of $1, attracting people from Ontario and even Nova Scotia. Those 16-$1 lots will create a lifetime of increasing tax-revenue. Also, what about co-housing? The Treehouse Village Ecohousing project in Bridgwater is solving a housing issue in Bridgwater. It’s not going to answer all housing issues, it’s not going to appropriate for everyone, but it does show the creativity needed to tackle these complex issues.
Aside from buying a second home to rent it out, or selling your own home to someone else, you may feel as though there is little the average person like you, and I can do, when in fact, we can all help in a small way. You can keep your ear to the ground for places that are coming up, and for those who are in need of accommodations and connect the two. If you have space available, consider making it accessible to others. Learn about what groups such as the South Shore Housing Action Coalition are doing to tackle the issue at sshac.ca.
And of course, continue talking about it, just like they did a few weeks ago that evening in Lunenburg.
The joy in being asked
I’m sitting at home on a Thursday night, watching the Boston vs Carolina game 1, when I get a ‘ding’ indicating I received an email. It’s from the Mahone Bay Founders Society and it’s asking me if I would contribute to the 40th Annual Our Best To You Food Sale at the St. James Parish Hall in Mahone Bay on May 25th, and I finally feel like I have arrived! No joke or exaggeration, I begin to scan my memory of recipes to decide what I should cook or bake and donate to this iconic event.
In case you’re not aware, the Our Best To You Food Sale is a fundraiser where people go and buy food for that evening’s supper, or to fill their freezer, or to eat in the car on the drive home. People cook their family favourites mostly, they donate it, and it’s sold to people like me who love food. And now, they are asking me to contribute. To do the cooking, not just the buying! Honestly, I can imagine this is how it feels to be nominated for a prestigious award. I add it to my calendar, I make a grocery list and search Pinterest for creative packaging, because you better believe I will not disappoint.
It certainly is an honour just to be nominated…. I mean asked to participate.
Coincidentally, the day before, my friend and I were walking the beautiful trail behind the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre, when we ran into a young man walking his dog. We stopped and did the typical small talk about the weather, asked about his gorgeous dog, and then I realize from his accent that he was from Newfoundland. A few questions later we confirmed it. He moved to Bridgewater from Newfoundland and was working in Shelburne. We wished him well and continued on our walk. My friend and I discussed how we hoped he was settling in well here and finding his community. “He is exactly who I’m hoping to help attract and stay here,” I told my friend of my work with NOW Lunenburg County. I instantly felt regret for not asking for his phone number but couldn’t in a way that wasn’t absolutely creepy. If I asked for it, I’m sure he would have given me a wrong number, just as I would have if some strange person asked me for my number in the woods.
So, if you happen to be reading this, the fellow from Newfoundland with the gorgeous dog, I truly would love to connect, not for anything nefarious, but to make sure you’re loving it here, connect you with gentlemen’s league hockey if that’s your thing, or to a band if you play the drums, take you for a beer at one of our cool breweries, tell you about all there is to do, and perhaps even invite you to come and fill your freezer with food from the Our Best to You food sale. I promise, I’m harmless. I’m married, and you’re much too young for me anyway.
And to everyone else, imagine how it feels to be new to a community and have someone invite you to be a part of the community. One simple invitation made me more conscious of being more inclusive and inviting people who might not otherwise participate. I encourage you do the same.
My son and I recently went to the viewing of You Are Here - a documentary hosted by Lunenburg Doc Fest at the Cineplex Theatre in honour of National Canadian Film Day. The documentary is based on Gander Newfoundland’s response to the 7000 stranded passengers that converged on their community of 9000 people during the 9/11 attacks. The musical “Come from Away” is based on that story. It was excellent.
In the film, the term, 'Come from Away' was meant as a term of endearment, meaning, the folks who are not from there, nothing more or less. It’s a term that I’ve long believed is a made-up phrase that locals don’t really use. People who aren’t from here might call themselves a 'Come from Away,' but I, nor anyone I know, identify a new resident as a come from away. But is "Come from Away" not just a title but a way people are treated?
This conversation recently came up at one of our weekly NOW Lunenburg County meetings when discussing the plight of some new Lunenburg County residents who called us, asking for help getting, well, help! These folks, and there have been more than just one, lamented the inability to get tradespeople and have shared a concern that it’s because they’re new to the area, or “come from aways” if you will. I explained that I highly doubt that. I shared how I struggled to find a roofer. Contractors, plumbers, electricians, they’re all in high demand.
But some folks are convinced it’s the result of not being connected to the right people. After hearing a similar story for the third time, I thought, am I wrong? Perhaps I live in an idealistic world. Maybe the term 'come from away' isn’t a made-up term but is an actual thing that is another barrier prohibiting people from moving here and successfully creating a life here. Maybe ‘come from aways’ aren’t just struggling to hire tradespeople, but they’re also struggling to find friends, groups and their own community.
What if local employers, the same employers who have shared that they're struggling to find staff, are missing people who are right under their nose because these new people aren't connected to the right people? These new people, we're told, might not even know where to start or who to talk to in their industry to begin their job search.
So, what can we do about it?
Can we first remove the term "Come from Aways" unless you're talking about the play? Or if you like the term and want to call yourself that? But to identify someone as a, "CFA" feels a little bit like calling me a "local". Both terms are accurate but depending on how they’re used they can be derogatory. I really don't like that. Can we just remove the labels?
But what else can we do about it? Well, we can share the one thing that we '’locals” know, and that's the experience of living here. I recently met a new, lovely couple, Howard, and Judy. Howard came from the financial sector in Ontario and knew very few people. I simply sent out an email to the people I knew would know far more about the opportunities in that industry than I do. I introduced them via email and days later, he was employed.
My request is two-parts: First, can we stop thinking of people in two groups, from here or not, and instead, think of us all in one lovely group; people who have chosen to make Lunenburg County our home? And second, recognize that if we connect the right people together, we're helping to build a strong community for everyone.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.