I’ve been lucky to have lived on two of Canada’s three coasts, let’s call them left and right. Just to keep politics out of it, I won’t say which is which. And, to me, I consider both to be home. Winnipeg too, but that’s another story.
A Tale of Two Coasts
I was born in Halifax (hello, fellow Grace babies!), moved away for a while (Winnipeg!) and returned ‘home’ as many Bluenosers do. I spent a large chunk of my 20s and 30s in Halifax. I was climbing the career ladder at the time and, because of that, I moved to Vancouver. I’d only visited way out west once and didn’t know much about the area, or BC for that matter. So I moved there and it’s been home ever since — except for the times I lived in places like Mexico. Guatemala, Scotland, Ireland, Ghana. But those are other another stories.
Same Same but Different
Sure, Nova Scotia and British Columbia are a country apart, but they’re still in the same nation. Which means there are a ton of similarities: Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, oceans, forests, cities and, loosely defined, mountains. You know, Canada.
If you’re fortunate, you may have visited one or both provinces on holidays. But short visits just scratch the surface. To really get to know a place, you need to live there. And a caveat: Since I’m not writing a book, I won’t go into the huge differences that you’ll find in different parts of each province. Cape Breton is not Yarmouth, just as the Cariboo isn’t the Lower Mainland. I’ll also assume that if you’re considering either coast to put down roots, then you’re likely to be near-ish to a city, like Vancouver or Halifax. That’s where I’ll focus.
Big and Small
Some quick stats. BC’s population is more than 5 million. The province is also big. Like nearly 950,000 sq. kms. big. It’s mountainous too. Ten mountain ranges cover nearly 75 per cent of the province. And there’s more than 25,000 km of coastline.
Nova Scotia is tiny in comparison, with just under a million people living in an area of 55,000 sq. kms. Nova Scotia has 13,000 km of coastline, which is pretty impressive! And, unlike BC, much of that coastline is accessible from anywhere in the province. You don’t need to live on the sea to be near it.
If you live in Vancouver, some parts of BC are best reached by taking a plane. Still, the ocean and mountains are basically your front and back yards. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are just a short ferry (or seaplane) ride away. And, the US border is less than an hour south.
If you live in Halifax, it’s always a short drive to some very different terrain. For example, the farmland and orchards of the Annapolis Valley. Or the charming fishing villages and towns of the South Shore. And, if you’re already goin’ down the road, keep going a little further to Cape Breton Island, with its stunning natural beauty, vibrant Celtic culture, and rich history. It’s like road-tripping to Scotland or Ireland.
The scenery is nice, of course, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Looking to start a family and put down some roots? It’s definitely more affordable in Nova Scotia than in BC. You might even find your dream home on the water.
By contrast, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are expensive. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average price of a home in BC in March 2023 was $960,067 and Greater Vancouver (the Lower Mainland) was $1,143,900. Looking to buy? I hope you have deep pockets!
Meanwhile, down east, your real estate buck goes much further. In March, the average price in Nova Scotia was $376,600. Not surprisingly, Halifax-Dartmouth came in higher at $496,000. In both BC and Nova Scotia, the further you get from the big city, the cheaper the housing is. Funny that.
I think this is the most important factor in determining which coast to call home. I’m currently living (renting) in Vancouver but I’ve already decided that I want to spend my autumn years in Nova Scotia. Why? It’s cheaper and quieter. Although access to healthcare might be an issue. It’s not that BC’s is better, there’s just more of it.
Halifax is a young city. It’s a university town and you really feel it. There’s an energy that you only find in small cities. True, unlike Vancouver, you don’t get huge concerts or big-time sporting events, but you have to be able to afford them. And honestly, it’s a ton of fun seeing local bands playing down at the pub (where everyone knows the lyrics to Barrett’s Privateers) or bundling up in the fall to watch university football.
Nova Scotia is incredibly friendly and welcoming, but so is BC. Vancouver might not be the friendliest place, but over on the Gulf Islands, it’s a different story. And then there’s Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I swear you can hear the angels sing. Though it might be people wiping out at the nearby surf school.
Here Comes the Rain Again
Weather on the two coasts is similar (rain, and lots of it) but different (think seasons). Southwestern BC has a mild winter, meaning you can golf, cycle and kayak year-round. There are three ski resorts minutes from downtown and it’s not unusual to see snowboarders riding the bus with commuters. Whistler is just up the highway. Summers are wonderful and can be surprisingly hot. Fall and spring are decent, too — notwithstanding the rain.
Nova Scotia has a colder, longer winter with much more snow than the Lower Mainland. Spring is basically several weeks of slushy streets and wet feet. Summers are short and moderate. And autumn? Glorious. It starts right at the beginning of September and seems to last forever. The skies are bright and blue and the air is fresh. Most of the tourists are gone and often you’ll be on your own in the parks and on the trails. Except for the bears, of course.
These Are a Few of My Favourite Things
I used to love heading out of Halifax on a fall weekend, usually with a group of friends. We’d head up to the Annapolis Valley. There’s nothing quite like picking up some local apples (and pies and cider and pumpkins and jam and ice cream…) at Hennigar’s Farm Market in Wolfville, a short 90-minute drive from Halifax. There are cute little restaurants and vineyards to visit as well. BC has this too, but in Nova Scotia, it’s much more accessible.
One thing I love about BC, and specifically Vancouver, is how the city and the ocean come together. The beaches in the city are stunning. A perfect day for me would be grabbing a bite at the Jericho Sailing Club and then strolling to the end of Spanish Banks, with its commanding view of English Bay, the downtown skyline and the North Shore mountains. It never gets old.
I haven’t said much about culture and food. As you would expect in diverse and multicultural cities, both coasts thick those boxes. I’ll keep it simple: Sushi out west and lobster down east.
Should I Live on the East Coast or the West Coast of Canada?
So, which is better? Good question. But a more appropriate one might be: Is one place better than another? One thing that writing this piece has shown me is that it’s not a fair comparison. It’s a personal thing and a practical thing. Decisions on where to live are influenced by tangible factors like income, distance from family, access to schools and healthcare and personal preferences. They are also influenced by intangible things: like your heart. What do you love? That’s the place you should be.
And since this is a personal essay, I guess I should tell you which coast I think is better. That’s easy! I’m one of the lucky ones who get to call both coasts the right coast.
Feature image courtesy of Getty. All other photos courtesy of Doug Murray.