I openly state that I have a favourite sibling, who is my brother Don, and I don’t feel guilty about it, because my four other siblings probably consider him to be their favourite, also.
I have more memories of growing up with him than the others, most likely due to the fact we were only three years apart and as a young gay man he enjoyed time with his little sister, who was more than happy to support his love of decorating and accepted his gentle soul, which did not fit in with the rough and tumble boys of our Vancouver neighbourhood that we migrated to in 1965.
I can vividly remember the two of us sitting on the train in November 1965 with our pillow cases of Halloween candy as we traveled from our birthplace of Battleford, Sask. to Vancouver, where we were to meet up with our dad and older brothers, who had left the year prior to find employment.
We were part of the 42 per cent of Saskatchewan-born citizens who migrated from the province from about 1911 to 1980 looking for economic opportunities. The adventure was perfectly acceptable to me, as my mom assured us we were leaving the snow behind, which, being from Scotland, was more important to her than my siblings and I, and I had my big brother and friend beside me, so, to me, life would be normal.
Defining ‘normal’ would be hard to do. We grew up in the ’60s and ’70s within the lower middle-class lifestyle that my mom managed to carve out for us as the principle breadwinner. It was especially hard for my brother, who had to conceal his sexual identity for all of his younger years and because our normal included a level of dysfunction that resided within many of the homes made up of post-war relationships.
Comparing us to Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons, well, let’s just say, not our family.
Yet, together, we got through it and the bond I have with my brother is stronger than it ever was and I still love spending time with him, which is why I was shocked when he announced, after his solo drive across Canada this summer, that he was once again migrating back to the snow.
No, not Saskatchewan, as he is smarter than that, but Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
He actually concluded he was going to do this after spending only one day exploring the city, as he immediately fell in love with it and its house prices. The house he bought is a beautiful, four-bedroom, heritage home with a full yard and garage, listed for just under $300,000, which, according to a search of properties for sale in Lunenburg, is on the higher end of the price range.
Like most of the areas within the Maritimes, Nova Scotia is not exploding economically, with its unemployment rate consistently placing fourth highest in Canada at 8.2 per cent.
However, according to Statistics Canada’s Migration Patterns for 2015/16, Nova Scotia for the first time since 2009/2010 has a net migration rate of 0.8 per thousand, which is second to B.C.’s rate of 5.6 per thousand and ahead of Ontario, which came third at 0.7 per thousand. Basically, this means that once people settled in and out of Nova Scotia, the province was up about 800 more citizens in 2016.
And now, due to affordability, Nova Scotia gets one more citizen and Vancouver loses another long-time resident because my brother, as a retiree, is finding Vancouver too expensive. Granted, like many older residents in Vancouver, it is not lost on Don that he is in a good position to make a financially beneficial move, due to the equity he gained from his apartment within the present housing market. Yet, if housing options and the city itself were more affordable, he would never be leaving, which is disappointing for people around him who will no longer have him readily in their lives.
Still, anyone following the housing crisis knows this is not a story about my brother and I, as this is playing out for families across the country. According to Statistics Canada, people over the age of 65 and those in the 2- to 34-year-old category are the principle demographics that are opting to leave metropolitan cities in record numbers, due to the seniors being able to cash out and live somewhere cheaper and the high cost of living driving the younger crowd away, which the policymakers are struggling to address.
Until they do, though, for the little sister who sat with her favourite brother on that journey to a new home back in 1965, feeling happy because he was there, its too late, and I can’t help but mourn for the loss of the Vancouver that gave our family a chance at having a home and feel sad for those who will never have that experience, or who can no longer afford it.
Yet, our generation was taught to pull up our boot straps and soldier on in tough times, which is why Don is willing to move, and I am now determined to work enough funds into my retirement plan that will accommodate visiting Nova Scotia every couple of years — in the summer, though, because our mom was right: “Snow sucks.”
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and
currently president of ARMS.