Nova Scotia·Point of View

Rural Reckoning: Being young and looking for a future

Nova Scotian statistics are grim when it comes to unemployment, cuts to rural services, and youth out-migration, but statistics don't tell a story.

Guest blogger Hannah Main explains what it's like to try and build a life in Bible Hill

Hannah Main wants to live and work in her home town, but jobs are scarce. (Courtesy Hannah Main)

Nova Scotian statistics are grim when it comes to unemployment, cuts to rural services, and youth out-migration, but statistics don't tell a story. I can tell you a story.

I am not sure people outside of the Maritimes, or even older people in the Maritimes, quite understand what it's like to be a young person here. You are invited to take a walk in my shoes.

Imagine you grow up in a mid-sized town in Nova Scotia. Your parents are not well-off, but you always have enough. Your family vacations always consist of camping and cottaging trips around Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and you grow up with a strong sense of place and belonging.

Where you belong

This is surely where you belong: where you know the spot to forage for fiddleheads in the spring, and where every family gathering inevitably ends up with someone playing the piano, someone playing the fiddle, and everyone tapping their feet. There is hodgepodge at the harvest and strawberry shortcake in the summer. It is where the beach is never more than an hour away, and where wooden houses in every shade of paint line the streets.

They all tell you the same story: They wish they could stay in Nova Scotia. But there are no jobs.

Mostly everyone in your high school can't wait to get out of your town. You love it, but you leave to study in another Nova Scotian small town. You excel, just as you did in high school. 

After university, you spend three months volunteering in Mozambique. It is meaningful work and you love it. But even when you are halfway across the world, you ache for your home, and you wonder if you were ever meant to leave. So you return, live in the little university town that has become your home and you look for a job.

Just no jobs

You apply for perhaps fifty jobs before landing a job as a server. It's an OK job, but it's not what you imagined doing after university. After working as a server for a while, you begin to explore other options, and eventually decide to go to grad school. But grad school is in Ontario. 

So you spend a year in Ontario and the whole time, you miss your home dearly. You keep in touch with your friends from high school and university. And, in different words, they all tell you the same story: They wish they could stay in Nova Scotia. But there are just no jobs. 

You return home to do research on Nova Scotia's rural areas. But you also need a job, and you search. The search is discouraging and you wish there were jobs outside of Halifax, but the majority of jobs in your field are in Halifax. You do not doubt that you are bright, talented, creative, and hardworking. But you start to feel like these things are not valued in your beloved home province.

We need young people to stay here, but we act as if we do not value them. Each year, we get thousands of keen, bright young graduates out of our many post-secondary institutions. They toss their graduation caps in the air and drink one last round of Keith's and then they board a plane for Anywhere But Here, and their highly-skilled labour, as well as their consumption, is enjoyed by places other than Nova Scotia. 

And you drive in the countryside and you pass countless abandoned homes and businesses with "for sale" signs in the window, and you feel helpless, like you are a passenger on a sinking ship. But you love this ship. And with your bailing bucket you try to fight the ocean.

Hannah Main is 23 years old and lives in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia. 

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