No one tells you about the hills. They weren’t in any of the “Top 10 Reasons to Live in Halifax” YouTube videos I watched or the Government of Nova Scotia ads inviting me to make the move. Instead, I discovered them on my very first trip downtown — after driving halfway across the country to this place I’d never been.
Walking down the hills, I wondered how anyone braved them in winter. Walking back up, I experienced something like vertigo as I reflected on how exactly I had ended up here.
When people ask me why I moved to Halifax sight unseen, I always describe it as a “pandemic restlessness decision.” I was living with my best friend in small-town Ontario. My sister was living alone in a basement apartment in Toronto. None of us were having a good time in lockdown.
If there’s one thing the pandemic gave the world that I’m sincerely grateful for, it’s the untethering from the limitations of physical presence. Almost everything, we realized, could be approximated with a webcam and a strong internet connection. Easter dinner with our parents, birthday parties for friends — I was even taking fitness classes from a studio in Los Angeles.
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Were those Zooms a replacement for being physically present with people, sharing meals and hugs and sweat? Absolutely not. But they were a closer facsimile than I expected (even with an occasional uncanny valley feeling when faces froze), and I was seeing those faces way more often than I normally would.
And so the conversations began: were the three of us happy where we were? Did we have to be there? For me, these questions were rejuvenating with resurrective possibilities. After being entombed in our home for so long, what might rebirth look like? What version of me could be created anew? Life, as we have been reminded so often in the last two years, is finite. But who we are in this life is almost infinite.
As friends quit their jobs, committed to working from home long-term, moved back with their parents and ended or began romantic relationships, we (and more than 9,000 other Canadians, apparently) started circling Nova Scotia on our maps. My sister and I grew up moving a lot, including some time spent in St. John’s, N.L. We had memories of salty air, jagged rocks and lighthouses, but we had never visited the East Coast as adults. My best friend had explored Halifax on a family summer trip when he was young and had vague memories of really enjoying it.
Our extremely well-thought-out logic was this: we all liked the East Coast. We were young, creative people who wanted the chance to make like-minded friends. We needed job prospects. When we added that all up, there seemed to be just one option.
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These conversations started in August 2020, but the decision didn’t feel real until we gave notice to our landlords in December. We waited until after Christmas to tell our parents, who took it well. The last time I saw my mother before we moved, she stood on the porch and waved with a tea towel, calling, “Go have an adventure!” Friends’ reactions ranged from shocked to encouraging to sad — an indication, I posited, on where they stood with their renewal journeys.
And so I became Halifax Kate, and walked down the streets I’d toured on Google Street View. We moved in February 2021 and experienced a blissful month of looser restrictions before a fresh lockdown. When we emerged for the second time, I felt a drive to make the most of this new place that I haven’t had since my last big move (after a breakup, another kind of resurrection). I joined an app for finding friends; I made the jump back to singing with a choir; I swapped my L.A. Zoom workouts for in-person classes nearby.
So I walk up these vertiginous hills as I walk the journey back to myself: a person who knows how to leap from the path she’s on. I’m braver than I remembered, willing to do things just because I can and because they might turn out to be sweet. With this move, I let go of a lot of fear, a lot of stagnancy, a lot of gradual but more tiring ascents. The hills here might sit at physics-defying angles, but they’re still a joy to climb.
Kate Spencer is a writer in Halifax.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s April/May 2022 issue with the title “My maritime rebirth.”
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