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May 18, 2020 | Hicks

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.

Thirty-seven months ago Dorothy, Bandit and I piled into the wagon at daybreak and hit the Parkway. Gridlock. Ninety minutes later we broke through the sticky eastern membrane of the GTA, heading east. To Lunenburg. Where we’d had a seasonal home for eight years.

We never went back. At least, Bandit didn’t. It took a few trips for me to sell the downtown condo, the Belfountain General Store and a country property down the road. I also told my corporate colleagues this was it. Adios. Keep my office in the Bay Street tower, but don’t expect to see much of my imposing silhouette.

In the quaint town on the South Shore of Nova Scotia an hour from Halifax, overlooking the working harbour, we stayed. Bought a nicer house. Bought a sweet little stone former bank building. Established a new branch of my business. Hired employees, including a Wall Streeter and Bay Streeter looking for better. Installed the fat data pipe from the Big Smoke.


“You know,” Dorothy said, looking out her kitchen window at the Polar Prince, the Maude Adams and the lobster boats tied to Zwicker Wharf, “we’re exactly where we should be. I’m never going back.”

Recently several people on this pathetic blog have asked why we made this choice. I shall try to answer, without justifying. After all, it’s an acquired taste. Unless you like lobster, blue tartan, kitchen parties and driving really, really slowly.

Where is this place? About twenty hours by car east of Toronto. Ninety minutes from the Stanfield airport. On the Atlantic Ocean, south of Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove. The weather is (in my experience) way better than Toronto. The guy who shovels my driveway showed up three times this winter. Mostly it rains instead of snows. This strip of NS is the Victoria of the Maritimes, it seems.

Taxes are as brutal as Ontario, Quebec or BC. HST is 15%. It’s as hard finding a family doctor as it is in most places, but little Lunenburg has a large, fully-equipped hospital with an ER – notable for a place of two thousand souls. Also lots of dentists, two medical clinics and a big LTC facility (with no virus).

It’s a tourist economy, so 2020 will be rough. Lots of restaurants and a dozen art galleries on Lincoln Street. The Bluenose lives here – visible from our windows. Scallop fishery is big business. So’s the distillery and craft beer brewing. Loads of B&Bs. There’s a thriving classical music academy and a school for the arts. Plus a high-tech gaming company successfully bending young minds in several countries. Artists-per-square-mile is huge. There’s a restored opera hall. Endless festivals (except this year). One Timmies. No big-box stores. The closest Home Depot is 90 clicks away in suburban Halifax. That city has everything you’d expect from a place with 600,000 people. Plus a navy. That’s cool.

But why did we land here?

So I’m a 1%er, and blessed. Dorothy and I could live pretty much anywhere, and the choice a decade ago was Lunenburg or Van. The cost of living aside, NS won because of people, beauty and culture.

It’s a first-name place. The town officials , the cops, the bylaw officer, the lobster guys, tradespeople, shopkeepers, [email protected] – all are familiar and equal. You can walk everywhere if you live in the Old Town. Grocery store, pharmacy, lawyer, town hall, insurance office, clinic, stores, bars, parks and the rowdy Legion. Greenie, social-justice-warrior lefty artisans are nicely balanced by redneckies in tats and black pickups with modified mufflers and hunting dogs in the back. An astonishing number of folks, when you get to know them, admit coming here from away. I think the urban refugees may be taking over.

East coast culture is a big draw. The art is compelling, the music infectious. In my bank building I donate space to the local documentary film festival office, the Nova Scotia Sea School which teaches sailing and life skills to kids, plus there’s a sculptor in the basement who works in wood. When the financial world is tedious, I go down there, hang out and inhale the cedar chips.

A two million dollar Toronto house costs about five large here. Outside of town perfectly good places go for three. Rents are dirt cheap. Airbnb’s been a scourge, but that will end. Lunenburg is a Unesco heritage site, with the Old Town looking essentially as it did 150 years ago. The architecture is eye candy. The local heritage officer, Arthur, quickly hammers anyone who changes a window, a fence or a façade without a ‘certificate of appropriateness’.

It’s a small place. That brings an enveloping sense of community. It also brings lack of privacy, scrutiny and judgment. You can’t give the finger to someone who cuts you off because you’ll see them three times this week in the post office, the liquor store and the Foodland.

Now we have the virus. Everywhere in the world. In NS today there are 102 active cases in a population of a million, with four people in ICU. Most of the 55 deaths came, tragically, in one retirement home in Halifax. A few people in Lunenburg wear masks. There was a security guard in the grocery store for a while, but he’s gone. The golf course across the harbour is open again. Nobody locally has Covid. If they did the community Facebook page would light up. But so far it’s all about small engine repair, remote Zumba classes, lost dogs and found chickens. Or why someone heard a siren. Oh, and traffic, when there is some.

You’d probably hate it here. So best stay put.

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May 18th, 2020

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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