Settling In

The temporary base

Our hearts were in our mouths as we drove along this dirt road, which seemed to go on for ever. Had we made one mother of a mistake booking this place over the Net? Thank heavens the dirt gave way to paved (tarmac’d) highway by the time we reached the property.

It was much larger than we had gathered from photos on the landlord’s website. A four bedroom fully furnished 120-year-old monolith on 4.5 acres complete with tennis court, all for around £75 per week, including rates and well water. A lot more for a lot less than the mortgage we paid in the UK. Like 99.9% of the homes in Nova Scotia it’s timber-framed with wood sidings (planked outer walls – similar to giant garden sheds). The downside is that we agreed to cut the grass. Even with a powered motor it’s a pain.

Important point. Avoid big houses in winter – they cost an absolute fortune to heat and on reflection we could have rented something smaller and more manageable for around £40 per week.


In fact this is a good moment to introduce you to the main Nova Scotian pastime of grass-cutting. These guys have huge lawns, acres of grass, and spend days driving their sit-on mowers around keeping it short. As the land is so fertile and the weather so sub-tropical, as soon as it’s finished one end, it’s time to start over again. A Canadian’s manhood is judged by the length not of his willy, but of his grass….

Another oddity are log piles. They suddenly sprout up from nowhere, ready for winter. You never see anyone assembling them, but there must be some secret midnight competition going on, as each pile is stacked to perfection. These allow the resin in the wood to dry out before burning. The longer it dries the better it is, and the less chance of a chimney fire! Logs are bought in quantities called “cords” which stack 8′ x 8′ x 4′ to give three rows of 16″ pieces. The gaps between each log should be big enough to allow a squirrel to pass through, but not a cat …..

It doesn’t matter if the house is falling down; providing the grass is short and the log piles are neat, that’s all that matters.


The first day out and around required us to purchase a set of wheels, the hire car having to be returned. What hits you first with the car dealerships is the sheer volume of brand new pickup trucks forming a wall, like a fort, around the lots. This, I have to say, is a very poor part of Nova Scotia with high unemployment, but here are parked up loads and loads of “UTs” (utility vehicles) and “caravans” (7 seaters), plus a sprinkling of saloons, but no estate cars (station wagons). The reason is high sales due to affordable finance – in many cases nothing down, 0.9% finance and payments around £25 to £40 a week.

As soon as we drove into the lot, the salesman appeared, in jeans and as friendly as you could wish. No pushiness and he happily showed us around the pre-owned stock. Here’s another tickler – the cars are not washed nor valeted until you’ve purchased them. Any quirks are fixed, but again only after you’ve bought it! Work that one out. We picked a GM Chevette Cavalier 1997 for £3,500. If you do the same, go to a newsagent first and purchase the Canadian equivalent of Glass’s Guide to compare prices, before buying.

However, when we came back to collect the car, we didn’t recognise it, it being in showroom condition and fully serviced. Before we could drive away, we had to take the sales documents to the local Department of Transport and purchase a number plate. This is yours and transferable from vehicle to vehicle for the rest of your motoring career, unless you choose to surrender it. On this you place a “month” sticker that indicates you’ve paid your £58 for two years motor tax – yes, you read right, £58! The Canadian MOT certificate is an official 2″ square patch attached to the windscreen (sorry – windshield) that indicates when the next testing is due. Car insurance is much the same cost as the UK, but bring evidence of no-claims bonus with you, as it also counts here when seeking cover.


So now we were mobile and off to tank up. Compared with the USA, petrol (sorry – gas) is expensive, but to us Brits at 29p a litre it’s cheap, boy is it cheap! Buying an economical vehicle is also important, as distances between everywhere are much longer.

Never fall for the Canadian measurements of time and distance. If it’s “Oh, just a couple of miles down the highway, won’t take you more than five minutes”, be prepared for a thirty-mile trip and half-hour drive…

For us to run from Bear River to Halifax City and back, costs just £17 – that’s a round trip of 450 km (about 280 miles) – not too bad for a 2000cc car. (For our American readers, £17 is about $27 at present (July 2002). Gas in the UK is around US$5.50 a US gallon at the moment, so you can see it from our perspective.)

Something missing here are garage air gauges that work with air lines. They don’t have them. Yes they have the air lines themselves but you have to use those tyre gauges like pens, remember them back in the late ’50s?

Another mention here about roads in Nova Scotia. In the whole of Canada, the second largest country in the world, there are about half the number of people that there are in the UK (which is tiny by comparison) and so expenditure on far more roads is a great deal less. This results in what would be unacceptable states of disrepair in the UK. However, the Provincial Government do their level best with what they have, patching up whenever fiscally able. In light of this, and the fact that you might like to use the comprehensive network of dirt roads, it would be worth the hardy adventurer considering a 4×4 jeep or off-roader as first choice of transport.

On an aside, walking through the town we observed a UT (pick-up truck) pull out of the local liquor store car park. In the cab was the guy and alongside, his faithful dog. In the open butt was his huge wife, the kids and a pile of logs rolling around… What do they say? A picture is worth a thousand words…

If you ever wanted to locate a classic American car, here would be a great place to look. Just bring a machete, for it seems that Nova Scotians, when finished with a vehicle, drive it round to the back of their lot and abandon it, leaving nature to do the rest. There must be thousands of old cars and trucks lying in the bush waiting to be rediscovered. A plot of land we recently bought has two 1950s International pick-up trucks just waiting for someone to renovate. I passed one guy’s house yesterday and it had 15 old pickups lined up like a showroom forecourt, just rusting away.

Closing on a sweeter note, the pedestrian is king! No matter whether you are on a small country side road or in the middle of Halifax City, the traffic will stop to let pedestrians cross. It’s an unnerving experience but the city dwellers have perfected the art of simply walking straight out into the road, looking neither right nor left, and the vehicles just stop a respectable distance away, like the parting of the Red Sea! Could you imagine that in central London where drivers accrue points for knocking down pensioners? Something to watch out for when driving through the City, though.

It wasn’t until much later that we fathomed out where this brave behaviour stems from – it’s the yellow school bus syndrome. When confronted by one of these and its lights are flashing, motorists in both directions have to stop immediately as the children alight. The kids then walk across the road without any Green Cross Code or “Tufty says…”, knowing that they will be safe, and this follows them through to adulthood.

© 2002 Klondike Pete

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