What makes a Nova Scotian?

From America to the Maritimes to Ontario — writer Jack Florek looks back at his former home

Since leaving Halifax after seven years and moving to Guelph, Ont., I’ve met a lot of people who, despite having left Nova Scotia years before, still identify as “real Nova Scotians.” 

One friend, born and raised in Halifax, still considers herself to be true-Bluenose despite moving to Kitchener, Ont. On a visit home to attend her sister’s wedding, a former neighbour flatly disabused her: “Honey, if you moved away five years ago, you are not a real Nova Scotian.”     

Another friend who has lived in Dartmouth for over 25 years says he still feels like an outsider: “The only friendly people in Nova Scotia are the people who came here from some other place.” 

So exactly who qualifies as a real Nova Scotian? Is it like in some parts of Guatemala where one is considered to be just visiting until several generations have died on the land and been buried there?

Certainly, no one has a greater claim to authenticity than the Mi’kmaq and their descendants, whose continued presence here can be traced back more than 10,000 years. And what about the Acadians who began settling in Nova Scotia from the Vendée region of western France in 1604? Or the Scots who came around the same time? Or the waves of English immigrants? And the many Black Nova Scotians whose ancestors came from the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries as enslaved people, or later escaping slavery?

Or, on a more light-hearted level, perhaps qualifying as a real Nova Scotian is something that one can accomplish in one’s spare time? Such as attending the taping of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, shopping at Frenchy’s during a full moon, harvesting your own mussels, meeting an actor from The Trailer Park Boys, or simply having the temerity to visit Ecum Secum or Tatamagouche in the middle of the winter?

But why does it matter? Authenticity is rather a slippery slope once you get around to making judgements of who is and who isn’t. I never hear debates about whether someone happens to be a real Ontarian or not (there are a lot of Contrarian Ontarians, however) or an authentic Golden Horseshoer. In Ontario, we are simply one mixed pot of everybody. 

That doesn’t mean we all get along. It just means we’re all stuck with one another whether we like it or not. Before I moved, a friend of mine in Halifax, who had spent some time living and commuting between Hamilton and Toronto, told me “everyone in Southern Ontario is a bit crazy and they act like they’re angry all the time.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

But I think that the reason why authenticity matters to so many people is that everyone instinctively realizes that Nova Scotia is a place unlike any other. When I arrived in Nova Scotia from New Jersey in 2008, its raw beauty struck me instantly. Turn a corner and there’s the ocean. Trees are everywhere. Lakes and rivers ditto.

What I remember most about Nova Scotia is that every beach is unique, from surfing at Lawrencetown Beach to the seaweed soupy shores of Cleveland Beach, strolling out a half a kilometer at low tide in the Eastern Passage and the pure breathlessness of Sand Dollar Beach near Lunenburg. From the bare bums at Crystal Crescent to the icy waters of Rushton’s Beach. Or the fabulous five-kilometre white sandy shores of Martinique Beach Provincial Park.

Halifax is chock full of history that remains accessible to visitors by retaining much of its aura from the days of yore. It contains a palpable sense of romance.

The Maritime Museum is a great place to get started. My family and I would visit Halifax Harbour each weekend, even in the wintertime when the ambience of brooding darkness and misplaced ghostliness was at its peak. The waterfront is equally good in the warm weather, even before and after the annual Buskers festival.

And since Halifax is known in some quarters as the “City of Trees,” Point Pleasant Park is a great place to get an unadulterated dose of flora and fauna. Strolling through Halifax Public Gardens has its own special delights.  

Dartmouth is no slouch either with the Dartmouth Heritage Museum and its annual free 40-concert Summer Sunshine Series featuring local musicians. 

A lot of Nova Scotians themselves get a bad rap for being unfriendly. As one person said to me, “If you’re from out of province, Nova Scotians are friendly enough to let you into traffic on Barrington Street at rush hour, but they will never offer you a job.”   

But some of the friendliest people I have ever met live in Nova Scotia. I lived in a duplex near the Bedford Basin and each year my landlady would lower my rent saying, “You proved to be good tenants, why shouldn’t you be rewarded.”

Once while standing in a coffee line at Tim Hortons at Bayers Lake, I mentioned to the man in front of me that he had a really great hat and I wondered where he’d gotten it. He promptly took his hat off and gave it to me. 

It occurs to me that I miss Nova Scotia more than I can say. And while I claim no title of authenticity and I realize that I am certainly not a real Nova Scotian, I wish beyond mere wishes to someday return. 

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