Spring is in the air, if not on the ground quite yet, and we’re readying for yet another season of activity. This time, our focus will be on our home, which we believe is celebrating its 200th birthday this year. I say “we believe” because the dates of the home’s construction and additions are anecdotal. But, based on information that lifelong Bear Riverites have shared with us, we think the main Cape Cod portion of our house was built in 1815 with an addition and early Victorian trim added in 1850.
In honour of its 200th birthday, and frankly, because it desperately needs it, the house is getting a top-to-bottom makeover. We’ll actually be moving out for 5 months, so that the renovation can proceed unimpeded. We’re fortunate that many of the big ticket items were taken care of by the previous owner. These included reinforcing and shoring up floor timbers in the basement, modernizing the electrical and plumbing, insulating and replacing crumbling lath and plaster walls. Most of our efforts will focus on the exterior and interior cosmetics with a new kitchen, bathroom, and deck thrown in. Nevertheless, the project will be a big budget undertaking, and many have questioned our wisdom in investing so much in an area where the housing market has stagnated in recent years.
- Location, location, location. Are you laughing? We’re serious. Situated just about midway between Digby’s supermarkets, seafood (Yuki’s Oishi Sushi!), and selection of services and Annapolis Royal’s impressive cultural offerings (Measha Brueggergosman at the King’s Theatre – WOW!, International award-winning Historic Gardens, and the impressive Saturday Farmers’ Market), Bear River is just 15-20 minutes away from either center. We have our doctor in Digby, our dentist in Annapolis Royal, our accountant in Digby, our veterinarian in Annapolis Royal. Our choices aren’t limited by proximity.
- A positive trajectory. While the slow decline of some rural Nova Scotian communities as been well documented, we have seen tremendous forward strides in the Bear River area in the past five years, most notably in Digby. On a recent trip into the Digby Canadian Tire, Gordon salivated over some high-end, new model stand mixers and other kitchen appliances. He recalled that in 2010, he couldn’t even find a bag-less upright vacuum cleaner in Digby, technology that was already 20 years old at the time. There are plenty of them to choose from now, along with a respectable selection of contemporary homewares. The demand is there now as is the purchasing power – good signs for the local economy. Moving from 1990 to 2015 in five years is pretty impressive.
- Younger people. While the scarcity of high wage work and the closing of small rural schools has driven many young adults who want to start families toward larger population centers, Bear River still attracts 20 and 30-somethings. We’re not exactly sure what their reasons are, but our guesses would include:
- A reputation for welcoming artists, dreamers, and free spirits.
- Jaw-droppingly affordable and beautiful real-estate.
- The option to send your kids to either Digby or Annapolis schools.
- The freedom to pursue homesteading or entrepreneurial visions without a lot of restriction.
- Other young people doing the same thing.
We understand that home sales in Bear River picked up this past year. While skeptics point out that these sales were mostly lower priced bargain properties, we are encouraged that many of them went to younger people with intentions of starting families and businesses. Our immediate neighbourhood is about to welcome its first newborn in over a decade! Yay!
Bear River has its detractors. But, we’ve listened to the objections and have never really seen the evidence ourselves. References to rough characters or counter-culture types are comically outdated. The terms themselves invoke the 60’s. We also don’t think Bear River has more than its share of outspoken individuals, although ours may be a little better at getting attention at times.
References to it being so far from everything also leave us scratching our heads, especially when it comes from someone in a neighbouring rural community. “What is everything to you?” we wonder, “and what do you mean by far?” We used to spend more time waiting for a bus in Vancouver than it now takes us to drive anywhere we need to go on a daily basis.
We’ve also heard residents of nearby communities refer to Bear River as too snowy, too cold, too hot, too buggy. Now this is just flailing. Those labels can be applied to any community around here at any given time, although we’ll admit that in summer, Bear River is reliably warmer than the Fundy coast. At our place, air conditioning in the peak of summer has become a necessity. A coastal cottage would be a nice luxury. Guess what? Those are affordable, too!
Of course, if you are a happy city dweller, all these points are moot. But, for those seeking a more rural experience who do not require locally available high-wage work (e-commuters, entrepreneurs, and young farmers – we’re talking to you!) or for those skilled in the trades or healthcare, we can’t imagine living anywhere else in Nova Scotia.
We’re bullish on Bear River. Wish us luck on the reno!