My partner, Hugh and I are both avid travellers. In fact, we had a six-week trip to Costa Rica planned in March 2020, right when Coronavirus officially became a pandemic. Countries were closing their borders, fear of the unknown was rampant and our respective small businesses which we had booked time off from for a wonderful adventure, had closed—without any indication of when they’d reopen, if ever. At the time, Hugh had his Wedding Photography business in Ontario and I owned a multi-location yoga studio business called Salti Yoga.
Devastation set in for the loss of our trip, our work and so many lives around us. Then the Black Lives Matter movement reached a peak which intensified so many of our feelings about the pandemic. It highlighted that even with everything we had recently lost, we were still among the most privileged people in the world because of our whiteness and geographical luck that we lived in a country with universal healthcare. Who were we to grieve a cancelled trip and feel afraid of a little uncertainty in life when BIPOC lives are perpetually in danger? Who were we to feel guilty about our privilege when we exist complacently in a world that perpetuates our privilege?
Emotions were running high. We oscillated between quietly listening and more actively amplifying the voices of others on social media. It felt like the universe had just put us on a well-deserved time out. We took this moment of stillness to chill out and reflect so we could move forward in a more peaceful way.
We were off work, but not really – much of our time was spent responding to our clients to process cancellations and delicately avoid refunding money we no longer had. We scrambled to apply for government benefits and pivot our businesses before they completely evaporated. Our respective industries had been deeply impacted by the pandemic since both are built on large gatherings. My situation was perhaps more challenging to navigate since I was responsible for paying rent and bills for two physical locations, even though they were (temporarily?) closed.
Once the emails from clients started to slow, we began reflecting on what our lives would look like without our jobs, without our friends whom we could no longer hug, without our separate apartments just blocks away from each other which we can now barely afford. We began to dream of being different people in a completely different place. We started casually scrolling through realty listings in Nova Scotia, viewing properties with expensive-looking views that were, in fact, remarkably affordable. We had always known that property on the East Coast was a fraction of the cost of anywhere in Southern Ontario, “but why would anyone want to live there?” we’d wondered. Limited access to culture and work opportunities were our main concerns with life in Nova Scotia, but incidentally we no longer had either of those things in Ontario anyway, so why not live somewhere more affordable and arguably more beautiful?
We both feel a strong pull to the ocean; its pungent smell, its powerful waves and the promise of a whale sighting. Hugh had been teaching me to surf, mostly on Lake Ontario (yes, that’s actually a thing!) and we both longed to be able to properly surf ocean waves again. We began to scour the coast of Nova Scotia for the perfect surf spot. Eventually, we came across this 3 acre Atlantic oceanfront property, tucked into a large bay on the South Shore. It had been listed for sale for over 2 years. It’s common for properties in Nova Scotia to be listed for much longer than that before sometimes being taken off the market because they never sell. This particular property had a decrepit-looking cabin at the road which featured the property owner’s wetsuit hanging from its bowed ceiling in one of the listing photos; a symbol of surf. There was a small clearing around the house which was surrounded by forest. The images revealed so little and were taken as thoughtless landscapes on someone’s flip phone. We knew the photos weren’t doing it justice and yet we spent hours poring over them, obsessing about where things were in relation to each other, where all of the nearest surf breaks were, whether we could fix up the cabin or where we could potentially build something else on the land. We came to fondly refer to the place as Surf Dump.
One night, I was laying in bed just after 11pm when Hugh texted me from his own bed across town, “I just contacted the listing agent for Surf Dump and one thing led to another…I may have put in an offer!” I couldn’t believe it, given that neither of us are prone towards impulsivity and we both tend to overthink things, making pro and con lists before making a sensible decision. This was far from sensible. Sure enough, the offer was accepted and Surf Dump was ours. This property, in the middle of nowhere in rural Nova Scotia with a potentially condemnable house and no running water—which we had never even been to—was ours. We flipped between excitement and dread which was thinly masking our fear. Hugh asked me daily, “Is this a bad idea? Am I going to regret this?” and I would talk him off the ledge, reminding him of our wildest dreams and also that it’s too late to back out anyways, so we may as well make the most of it.
Of course, to get to Nova Scotia during the Pandemic was not simple. We had to drive the long way around, avoiding the U.S. and pass through 2 pop-up border checkpoints where we had to prove our recent purchase and promise to quarantine for 14 days. Our car was filled to its brim with all of our food, water, tools and camping gear. It took us 19 hours to drive there and we were prepared for anything.
We spent our first day blazing a trail through the forest to the ocean, over the remnants of what was once a path, but is now overgrown; the forest closing in to reach for every bit of light. The forest went from wildflowers, alder trees, fruit trees and ferns as tall as me to lush moss and then a dense thicket of balsam fir trees along the shore. It opens up to a rocky beach. It has the smooth kind of ankle-rolling sedimentary rocks, polished by the sea and big enough to border a fire pit. We spent the afternoon dragging brush out of the forest; some previously fallen and dry, some cut down from our trail-clearing. We lit a fire on the beach just as the sun was setting over the sea on that warm, early fall evening in 2020. We sat there for hours, often silent and in awe as the stars came out, knowing that this was where we were supposed to be. We began to dream of a future here and paused to remember that having the privilege to imagine a different life is the greatest freedom.
If you’d like to see more photos of Surf Dump, also known as South Shore Cabin, checkout Hugh’s blog here! Follow @southshorecabin on instagram to see what we’re doing with this breathtaking property.