Fredericton, New Brunswick — a town so small it rarely shows up on world maps. Most of the friends I grew up with have moved away — on to new lives in bigger cities, far from home. I chose to stay. This town might be small, but it has its charm and is familiar to me. I know what the best restaurants are and even the best menu items at each of those restaurants. We have three markets and I know many of the vendors by name. I have had the same doctor and eye doctor for as long as I have lived here. I can tell you how to access and ride the best ski and mountain biking trails — I’ve been skiing and riding them for many years.
While most of my childhood friends have left, new ones have taken their place — people from bigger cities who appreciate the benefits of small-town living and who, like myself, see the beauty of this tiny dot on the Canadian map. Fredericton is clean, unpolluted, and rich with history. Located on a quiet river valley, it is a source of inspiration for authors, painters, and other creative types. Sunrises and sunsets over the Saint John River paint the town with majestic pink and orange hues on a regular basis, while early morning fog often envelops the town’s gothic cathedrals, churches, and historical properties, not unlike spirits rising up to safeguard their original homes. The city maintains more than 80 KMs of multi-use trails, most of which run parallel to the river. If you take a stroll down one of those trails at any time of the year you might encounter some form of wildlife, such as owls, hares, or even the occasional deer. Local cross-country ski, snowmobile, and mountain bike organizations have built additional trails in the city for those looking for some exercise, excitement, or adventure. A small lake merely eight kilometers from my home is a popular meeting spot for triathletes training for their summer swims as well as families wanting to take a refreshing dip on a hot day. In the fall when the excitement of summer begins to die down, the city’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival attracts world-class performers, and our winter festival, FROSTival, brings in visitors from around the Maritimes.
Houses are affordable in Fredericton. I recently purchased a two story, three bedroom home with a four-season sunroom, garage, and gardening shed. In the spring the property is surrounded by fragrant lilacs, colorful tulips, and cheerful daffodils. Summer brings tiger lilies, blooming hostas, and delicious, juicy raspberries. In autumn, grape vines have been trained to climb a trellis in my backyard and fall heavy with the weight of dark purple bunches. I spent much of last fall picking and crushing grapes, then boiling the juice down to make countless jars of jelly, the sweet aroma of sugar and grape juice filling my home for days. A home like mine would easily cost at least ten, if not twenty times as much as what I paid for it in a city like Vancouver or Toronto. I couldn’t even rent a bachelor apartment in those cities for the price of my current mortgage.
Recently during a job interview, a recruiter asked me if I would be willing to relocate to San Francisco. I quickly responded with a firm “no”. Later, I shared this story with a few acquaintances. They felt I had made the wrong decision. I started to wonder if they were right. I was relatively young and unattached. Why not make that leap? I began to experience a deep shift and a sense of unease within me. It was similar to the sensation you get when you’ve returned from a wonderful trip and your hometown suddenly feels all too familiar. Parts of the city that seemed quaint to me before suddenly felt stale and my daily routine seemed mundane. I had lived here most of my life; maybe it was time for a change.
I had been to San Francisco for a week a little over a year prior and parts of it appealed to me. There was no shortage of interesting things to see and do and great places to eat and drink. I had biked across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, then taken a ferry back to San Francisco, passing Alcatraz on the way. There was a swim club that trained in the Bay and its members often swam to Alcatraz together just for fun. Training with them year-round would be a dream come true. The trolley cars and museums reminded citizens that although its industries were moving and growing at a break-neck speed, it had an interesting and complicated past. I started to picture myself living in San Francisco. Would I have a chic apartment by the bay? Would I make friends easily? Would I enjoy my job there? Would I meet someone and settle down? Would I still be me?
For two days I was tormented by an urgent and overwhelming need to pick up and leave town. Everything about Fredericton that I had previously held near and dear to my heart suddenly mattered very little. I could leave this tired town and start a new life, I kept thinking. Were these new feelings that were brought on by the prospect of a job offer, or had they been buried deep within me for years and only now manifesting themselves?
I didn’t know the answer to these questions but as I toyed with the idea further I slowly came to the realization that I was actually quite content living in Fredericton. It may come as a surprise to some, but it is possible to live in a small town and be very happy. I have managed to carve out a great life for myself here. There may come a time when I’m ready to leave, but that time is not now. Until then, I’ll enjoy the relaxed lifestyle that this town offers, the wide variety of outdoor activities available just steps outside my front door, and the joys of affordable home ownership. I’ll continue to cultivate the deep friendships I have made over the years and I’ll cherish these last few years I have left with my parents. You can have your expensive mortgages, long commutes, traffic jams, and smog. I’m happy to call this small town home.
Originally published at www.gridcitymagazine.com on July 4, 2017.