July 17, 2014

Rural Living

Almost 50% of Nova Scotians live in rural areas compared to 19% for all Canadians.
Photo: Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

People in Canada have been moving to the city for the past 160 years. Today most of us live in cities. But it wasn't always like that. At one time rural living was the way.

In 1851, nearly 9 in 10 Canadians lived in rural areas. The country reached the 5 in 10 mark between 1921 and 1931, when the Canadian economy transitioned from agricultural to industrial.

By 2011 that number was below 1 in 5, or 18.9%. This was one of the lowest rural populations in the G8 group of countries.

But some provinces are more rural than others. The province I just moved from (British Columbia) is roughly 14% rural. The province I moved to (Nova Scotia) weighs in at a healthy 48%.

Rural living is not for most Canadians, but it seems to work for the good folks in the Maritimes. I think this makes for differences in how people interact with each other.

One of our recent stops on the road was in a small town we turned in to so we could get off the highway for a bite to eat and a nap. We parked alongside a beautiful park.

After we were there for a while (I was falling asleep to the sound of laughing children playing and birds singing) a gentleman stopped outside our van. I heard him ask through the open tinted window, "Are you lost?"

Linda explained what we were doing. Reassured, the man told us where to get good food in town, where the local inn was, and then bid us good day.

Shortly after that a young man approached our van from the program he was running at the playground up the block. He told us that our headlights were on, and had been since we pulled in. I thanked him and tried turning the key. Our ever dependable van started, and we carried on our way.

Linda and I were so impressed with how these caring strangers were watching out for us. It was a warm welcome that made us feel good about our choice of our new home province.

Are people friendlier in rural areas? Do they look out for each other more than people in cities, places notorious for turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering of others? Will rural areas be more resilient while responding to changes on the way for our planet?

If so, the rural life seems like a good way to go, now, and as we move forward. And in Canada, the Maritime provinces are where you will find the highest percentage of people choosing what can now be called an alternative lifestyle.

Will more people choose the rural alternative in the future? Would you, or do you already, live in a rural area?


  1. I think people really are more friendly in the country. I'm originally from Sydney (Australia) and lived in an inner city area for many years. Most of the time I didn't know my neighbors, and not from lack of trying.

    Now I live in a large university town - with the bush just 5 minutes from my front door - and the culture is completely different. I know all of my neighbors, and would have no hesitation helping a neighbor out. I also have no hesitation in asking to borrow a ladder or set of kitchen scales if the need arises.

    I made the move from the city in 1996, and am very glad I did given the peak oil/soil/water situation we are facing. I feel confident in the future as I have enough land to go a long way towards self-sufficiency. My block is just under a quarter acre, but this is plenty for a dozen fruit trees, nut trees, chooks and a big vegetable garden. I would love to add bees next, although I'm quite nervous about getting stung!

    My oldest friend from Sydney recently visited, and she surprised me by saying they want to get out of Sydney, as she's such a city girl - maybe this is an indication that more and more people are not coping with the noise, traffic and hustle and bustle?


    1. Madeleine,

      I think self-sufficiency and small, cooperative groups of people working together will be the answer moving forward. This could take place in the city, but it is probably more doable in rural areas.

      The most supportive community I have ever lived in was in the middle of a urban area of 1 million people. It was an intentional community (housing cooperative), which makes it special. The coop was in a very quiet, beautiful area of the city, and had a large garden area for members.

      But it was still in the city, and we wanted to live somewhere smaller. If the shit ever hits the fan in a major way, I don't think the city will be a good place to be. We would consider a well-run rural housing cooperative if possible, but a nice smaller community would work as well.

      Your place sounds wonderful - just like what Linda and I are looking for right now. We would LOVE to be able to have a nut tree (walnut would be great), but that pretty much rules out all of Canada.

  2. Anonymous7/18/2014

    This post made me think of an article I read by Collin Woodard who wrote the book " American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011) " He determines that some of the differences aren't just rural vs. city, but here in North America there are distinct cultural differences based on past settlers. This extends to Canada as well.

    Woodard's theory certainly holds true for the area where I live. I'm in the "Midlands" settled by Quakers who are more likely to cooperate and support each other, but am bordered by "Appalachian" who are fiercely independent and suspect of anyone different. If fact my mother is a descendant of Quakers and my father the scots/irish in Appalachia. These two sides of my family certainly mirror these differences.

    Maybe going from one coast to another is a change in culture as well?

  3. Miss Marla,

    Thank you for introducing the idea of culture into this discussion - it is a crucial consideration. Linda studied cultural anthropology so is very interested in this area. We will be looking up Woodard's book as soon as we find a community to live in, and locate the public library.

    There are a variety of major cultural groups in Nova Scotia. The original inhabitants here are the Mi’kmaq.

    Then the area was settled by French Acadians in the seventeenth century. After France lost control of the area, the Acadians were replaced by the British who brought over tens of thousands of Gaelic-speaking settlers from Ireland and Scotland. Later came New England planters and Loyalists leaving the U.S. after the War of Independence.

    Relations among the groups were not always harmonious.

    Thank you for sharing your story - it is fascinating and gives us a lot to think about and consider while we decide where to settle. We tend to be more like the Appalachian side of your family, but also realize that it is difficult, if not impossible, to do everything on your own.

    You also remind me that culture shock is not only an international thing. There is indeed a big difference between the west and east coast of Canada, just like there is in your country. To me everything is different here, and it will take a while to acclimatize.

    Linda, on the other hand, was born here, and has lived here at various times of her life, so she feels kind of like she has returned home.

    1. Anonymous7/19/2014

      Here is a link to an article by Woodard on the subject: //www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html

  4. Anonymous7/21/2014

    Welcome to the Maritimes! If you're in Nova Scotia you've passed through my neck of the woods. Hope all works out well, and I look forward to seeing how your lifestyle works out here.


    1. JM,

      Thank you so much for the welcome to your beautiful province. We are also looking forward to acclimatizing to our new location and seeing how this crazy experiment turns out.


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