Time to Say Farewell to Nova Scotia (Part 1)?

Halifax Public GardensPart: 1 2 3 4 5

In a typical Maurice digression in this post, I wrote that “I think I’m finally reaching the point where Halifax itself is getting on my tits after 20 years, so I should do something about that.” And I think I need to address that now.

I still remember that beautiful warm sunny day in July 1982 when I “discovered” Halifax — a day very much like today, in fact, except without the “Come here and blow me” guy portrayed in this picture at the Public Gardens. Halifax was nothing like I expected it would be. I was expecting it to be a lot like Saint John, New Brunswick: old, a bit seedy, industrial, smelly, a bit dull — a city whose better days were the late 19th century.

But instead I found a “small big city” with a remarkable blend of old and new, and lots and lots of trees and green spaces. Street names like “Spring Garden Road,” “North Park” and “South Park” — this was well before the cartoon — added to my sense of this city being like a seaside urban playground, and the people going about their business seemed immensely more sophisticated than the dullards in my hometown of Moncton. I still remember seeing a young woman stepping out a corner store on South Park Street late one afternoon, carrying a six-pack of Perrier water. To the impressionable teenager that I was who had never seen a non-geriatric person drink Perrier in his hometown — remember, this was 1982 and nobody drank ordinary bottled water, let alone Perrier — this struck me as the height of sophistication. My friend The Quad and I used to call such sightings “big city-ish.”

In 1982, I still had one year of high school to complete. And as I told you in “Guilty (and Not-So-Guilty) Pleasures, Take 2”, when I was 17, I desperately wanted out of high school so that I could “begin living.” Halifax seemed like the kind of place where living could be good yet not completely destabilizing: it could be different enough to force me to step out of my comfort zone, but not too far. However, I already had plans for university after high school, namely to become a translator, and the best undergraduate program in that field at the time was at the Université de Moncton. And the demand for translators in Halifax, I thought, was likely slim to none compared to Moncton, Fredericton or Ottawa. I completed my senior year of high school in Moncton, yet in spirit and in my dreams, I constantly drifted to Halifax.

A few months before graduation, I grew resentful of believing my whole life was already mapped out before me: I would get my translation degree, land a job in the public service 4 years later and stay there until I croaked. I wasn’t 18 yet, and it seemed like “living” wasn’t part of the plan. So I decided to take a year off and work as The Quad’s personal attendant, yet continue to live at home and sock away most of my income for my university studies. In hindsight, this was my personal brand of very safe “sovereignty association.”

That year, I would hang out with an Albertan woman about my age named Sue, who had spontaneously decided to live with her grandmother in Moncton after her grandfather passed away. She used to live just a small block away from me, and whenever we’d walk back home from wherever we’d been out that night, I walk her home. Evidently our conversations were peppered with a lot of “Halifax this” and “Halifax that” remarks from me, for one night she had had enough. I still remember like it was last month how she just stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the slush on Lockhart Avenue that night in February ’84 and gave me the verbal kick in the ass she’d clearly been wanting to give me for a long time. “Just fucking go to Halifax already,” she said, her voice full of exasperation. “Stop just talking about it and do it!”

Even at 18, I was cautious before doing anything significant. The understanding I had with my parents was that I could live with them rent-free as long as I was saving for university, and I was always a man who honoured his word. But, I thought, if I promise to set aside my earnings from that point onwards, I could live in Halifax for 3 or 4 months and try to find a job there. If I did, I’d stay one year and return to Moncton to start university, but if I didn’t, I’d come back to Moncton and start university that fall. I moved to Halifax around April 22 and started work on June 13, so I ended up applying Plan A.

And indeed, as promised, I quit my job and moved back to Moncton in early August ’85, satisfied that I no longer needed to wonder what it would be like to live in Halifax. I had done it, loved it, but gotten it out of my system. There was a concert on Citadel Hill the weekend I was leaving, and appropriately some group sang “Farewell to Nova Scotia” (mp3, 2.3 MB, 3:20).

I had no reason at the time to believe I would live here again.