When my family and I decided to leave Bristol, UK and emigrate to Nova Scotia, Canada, in search of a new adventure and more opportunities for our daughter, we had a few dreams in mind. We envisioned ourselves buying a big rambling clapboard house with lots of land: probably more than 3,000 square feet spread over three floors or more. I had always wanted to keep horses and felt a hobby farm would be a great idea, with large paddocks for horses to roam on and plenty of space for our daughter to run around like Anne of Green Gables across the fields and brooks of Avonlea.
Alternatively, we considered purchasing a parcel of land to build our own home — one that had everything we desired. I had always wanted to build an eco-friendly, extremely energy-efficient, solar powered and geothermal heated, state-of-the-art home — and doing this in Nova Scotia, with all the picturesque lots available for sale at reasonable prices, seemed to make this an affordable option, too.
When we visited Canada again in 2018, with a plan to start thinking seriously about the move, we spent three weeks driving around the province looking at suitable places to live within one hour’s drive of Halifax airport. The seashores and lakefronts were so picturesque. We spent our holiday surfing, wild swimming, canoeing, and tidal bore rafting, and we loved the windswept remoteness and sense of adventure that the forests, lakes, and wild seashores of Nova Scotia offered.
Then, as it often does, life threw us a bit of a curve ball.
Towards the end of 2019, I started to become unwell. I had already been diagnosed with the onset of arthritis in most of my joints, and I had a full hip replacement and partial left knee replacement in my early fifties. This slowed me down. I realized that maintaining a big rambling house with land was going to be a tall order for me, especially when I considered the maintenance and upkeep it would need over a lifetime.
When we got a full cost estimate for the new build eco home I had dreamed of for so long, we realized that this was something that, even with the relatively cheap land available, was going to cost rather more than we had originally thought. We had to factor in clearing the land, the cost of materials, and fair labour costs, which was, in sum, far beyond our comfort level.
Then, it dawned on me that the winter months in Nova Scotia would be very cold, and, if it snowed heavily, living in a remote area meant we could be stuck for a few days — not something we have ever experienced in the UK. Living in the middle of nowhere was also not going to help us adapt to our new country.
And then one day, when I was searching online, as I always did, for something new and perfect-for-my-family, I stumbled across Treehouse Village Ecohousing. “Welcome home Nova’s Scotia’s greenest neighborhood,” said the video. They were promising eco homes that we could actually afford and building them as a community development.
I knew my extrovert wife would be interested in the instant community that cohousing would offer, but … I am a confirmed introvert. This cohousing concept seemed very … public. I had a lot of concerns.
Right away, I knew my extrovert wife would be interested in the instant community that cohousing would offer (not to mention the opportunity to bake for large numbers of people in the Common House!). But … I am a confirmed introvert. This cohousing concept seemed very … public. I had a lot of concerns.
Would my neighbours be telling me what to do? Would we have any privacy? What about having to join in things I didn’t want to join in? (For some reason singalongs came to mind, and OMG – can’t sing, can’t dance, don’t want to ever perform.)
And there were other reservations. Would I find people who had some of the same interests as me, like sports? Will my dogs have space to do their business first thing in the morning before I have time to take them for a proper walk? Would I be judged if I didn’t purchase an electric car or if I flew home to the UK to see family? I was concerned about feeling restricted by rules involved in living in a cohousing community.
I was reluctant because I sometimes struggle with large crowds of people and taking part in big group activities (sensory overload). I was reluctant because I am concerned about the local job market and the prospect of finding an employer in a new country after being in my post in the UK for more than 20 years. I was reluctant to lose my idea of the “Canadian dream,” which I thought was a big home and lots of space to roam. I was reluctant to commit our life savings to a project that I didn’t know the final cost of yet. The cost wasn’t insignificant either — and at the time, I didn’t consider the many savings that come with such a community.
Over many months of questions and digging and pondering and worrying, something happened that I didn’t expect. I grew to know the members and began to feel like we already belonged in the community — a community that isn’t even built yet.
I realized that the rules and judgements I imagined and worried about didn’t exist in this welcoming, collaborative community.
I realized that the rules and judgements I imagined and worried about didn’t exist in this welcoming, collaborative community. In October 2019, Cate and Leon invited me to stay with them in Bridgewater and attend the design workshop in Mahone Bay. The members went to the microbrewery pub afterwards on Sunday, and to say I made real connections with them is an understatement. During that time, Leon arranged for me to meet up with local employers and some of his connections to assist me in finding local work.
If that wasn’t enough support, Treehouse members have taken the time to give us advice on what to do in advance of coming to Canada with regard to credit cards, bank accounts, credit history, mobile phones, even electrical equipment motors that aren’t compatible in Canada. The way the Treehouse community has supported other members who have already made the move to Bridgewater during the pandemic has been fantastic: offers such as a place to stay during their quarantine and assistance moving belongings from storage units to their temporary home.
My connections with the other members have only grown over the last year during the pandemic. My wife and I know this is a group of folks who are willing to look out for us as a family. The investment seems small, now that I’ve found a ready-made community that will grow to 29 other households, many of whom I already know really well. Sure, I won’t have my own piece of land, but we’ll be living on around 15 acres of forest with wildlife all around us. At the same time, we’ll be inside the town boundaries of the progressive-thinking and growing Town of Bridgewater, within walking distance of most amenities and activities. A win-win.
It’s safe to say my wife and I are equally excited about our new adventure now. Our daughter likes the idea of going on one of the yellow school buses to get to school each day. She loves wild swimming and with so many lakes and amazing beaches nearby, she’s going to be spoilt for choice. Outdoor ice-skating in the wintertime is also a winner for her, as is kayaking with other Treehousers.
And when our daughter learned that her friends’ families could stay in the guest bedrooms at Treehouse Village, that sealed the deal!
Will you join us?