Nova Scotia

Families move to small N.S. town to be part of unique co-housing community

The group behind Treehouse Village Ecohousing in Bridgewater, N.S., says it would be the first co-housing community in Atlantic Canada.

Interest in Treehouse Village Ecohousing in Bridgewater growing since COVID-19

Families from elsewhere in Nova Scotia and the U.S. have begun making Bridgewater home as they plan for what they say is Atlantic Canada's first co-housing community. (Emma Smith/CBC)

When Rebecca Hogue was in COVID-19 lockdown in California this spring, she was counting down the days to her new life in Nova Scotia.

She and her husband, Scott Drennan, are members of Treehouse Village Ecohousing, a co-housing community focused on energy efficiency that's taking shape on the province's south shore. 

Members of the group bought about six hectares of woodland in Bridgewater in 2019. If enough people sign up, construction of 30 private homes and shared space could begin this spring. 

"We all found ourselves going, 'Ah, I wish we were here already!'" said Hogue. "If we were here already then, you know, one person could go to the grocery store instead of everybody going to the grocery store, especially in that lockdown time when things were kind of scary."

For her, the pandemic is further proof of the benefits of co-housing, an idea that's been pursued elsewhere in Nova Scotia but has yet to come to fruition.

Members of Treehouse Village plan and pay for the development together. The idea is that they all live in separate residences that are built close together and have access to shared space and amenities. 

Rebecca Hogue and Scott Drennan are Canadians who were living in California before moving to Bridgewater this summer. (Emma Smith/CBC)

According to group members, it would be the first co-housing community in Atlantic Canada.

Right now, there are no buildings on the parcel of land that borders Pearl Street and the Centennial Trail in Bridgewater. But Hogue and Drennan said even though the development is still largely imaginary, the community isn't. 

The 40 or so current members, from across Nova Scotia and Canada and as far away as Minnesota and the U.K., meet regularly over Zoom to talk about the project, but also just to hang out.

In August, Hogue and Drennan decided they wanted to be closer to their fellow "villagers" and moved to Bridgewater from California.

"When we came into town, it was sort of like we were welcomed ... by our family, our Treehouse family. That connection has just been fantastic," Hogue said. 

The group bought about six hectares of land in Bridgewater and a large portion of it will remain forest. (Emma Smith/CBC)

The couple doesn't have kids of their own but like the idea of living in a multigenerational community where they can get to know other families.  

"You're attracting people who are actually interested in being your neighbours. It's not just randomly who did you move down the street from," said Drennan.

Interest on the rise

Over the last several months, interest in the project has grown, said co-founder Cate de Vreede.

Fifteen households have agreed to put money into the project so far, and some of the families, like Hogue and Drennan, have already decided to move to the area. 

Treehouse Village now holds weekly information sessions, instead of monthly ones, with between a dozen and two dozen households taking part each week, said de Vreede.

Founders Cate and Leon de Vreede wanted to live in a co-housing community so they could create an extended family for their son, Dylan. (Emma Smith/CBC)

She said an interest in living in the Atlantic bubble when other Canadian cities are battling rising COVID-19 cases is likely part of the growing interest.

But the pandemic has also forced many people to reimagine how they want to live.

"I think it had people thinking about what's important to them," said de Vreede.

"And we're finding that people are coming to us and saying, actually, you know, what's really important to me is spending like unprogrammed time with my family and my kids, or now that I can work from home, I'm free to live in a place that, you know, I have a real passion for being outside."

I think [COVID-19] had people thinking about what's important to them.- Cate de Vreede, co-founder of Treehouse Village Ecohousing

Those are some of the reasons Caitlin Stonham signed up after seeing a poster for the project at the Halifax Central Library. 

She and her husband moved to Bridgewater from Halifax with their young son, Alfie, in August. 

They are first-time home buyers and Stonham admits committing money, especially at the beginning, was scary. The individual homes are priced between $230,000 and $380,000 and residents will also share in other fees.

"This is the first time that we've been making a really big investment like this," she said. "It's more terrifying, I think, than buying a regular house because of this aspect that there's all this uncertainty and there's quite a high level of risk."

Still, Stonham sees it as an investment in people she trusts, and a way of being able to live in an eco-friendly home that would likely have been too costly to build on her own..

Caitlin Stonham and her son, Alfie, are two members of Treehouse Village Ecohousing. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"I already have a community," she said. "Even though we don't have buildings, I already have so much growth that I've done with these people and I have such good connections with them, that in a way it's already worth it."

The group said it needs nine more households to sign on in order to move forward with construction once the weather warms up. 

Last week, the Town of Bridgewater signed a development agreement with Treehouse Village, a major milestone for the project that de Vreede and her husband, Leon, first dreamed up many years ago.

It didn't take long for the couple's idea to take on a life of its own. When they held their first public meeting about two years ago, 80 people showed up.

Now, despite the work and stress of making a project like this actually happen, they said it's helped them feel better about the world, even in the middle of a pandemic. 

"It gives us, I think, a place to take that concern and worry for the future and to channel it into something that's positive, that's practical, that we can actually see come to life," said de Vreede.

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