Lee Larabee and his wife Rebecca had been dreaming of escaping from Toronto for years, with many reasons to ease the hustle and bustle of big city life whenever the conversation took place.
There were skyrocketing real estate prices, a lack of space in their small apartments, a general yearning for a more serene lifestyle.
But the worsening COVID-19 epidemic helped cement his decision.
Larabees began online house hunting at the beginning of the year, following a virtual tour before buying their first home last month in Springhill, a city of 2,700 that neither woman had ever seen.
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Lee Larabee sold a tattoo shop he owned in Toronto, which now went ahead as planned for June. And as COVID-19 cases continue to spread across the province, she realizes that he and his wife – a warehouse worker with an autoimmune disease – may not leave Ontario anytime soon.
“Every time (Rebecca) goes to work it stresses me out – he’s literally risking his life on the minimum wage,” Lee Larabee said. “I have only one wife.” She is everything to me.
Rebecca Larabee was diagnosed in 2015 with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder characterized by spinal inflammation. The disease, similar to multiple sclerosis, caused temporary paralysis and left him with sores on his brain.
Diagnosis: Shortly after Lee’s mother died of cancer, Larabees took a change of scenery from daydreaming to replace it. The financial impact of the epidemic – the tattoo studio had been closed since November – also fed into their decision to leave.
“Often people talk about one day, one day, one day, and it never comes,” Lee Larabee said. “So I’m proud that we’re doing this.”
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Larabees are among the many Ontarioians stepping into the Atlantic provinces amid the third wave of the COVID-19 crisis.
Lee Larabee says she has only received welcome messages from Springhill residents on Facebook Groups, with numerous offers to buy groceries, while the couple are isolated on their last arrival, but are aware that some people in the Atlantic bubble May be wary of impending implants.
Larabees plan to put notes on their front door and car, letting neighbors know they want to be part of the community after the 14-day quarantine ends.
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“We will be honored, we will do everything the government asks us to do,” Lee Larabee said.
Halifax-based real estate agent Sandra Pike says she has heard public outrage in Facebook groups expressing resentment for newcomers from Ontario. Not only are they worried that incoming residents will see new cases, but they are also concerned that they will raise real estate prices.
Pike says that about half of his new customers who have recently requested a virtual view from Ontario, a percentage that is much higher than in previous years.
The cost of living is the main reason customers give him to move out of Ontario, but the epidemic has factored into many people’s decisions, Pike says. They hope that the concern with COVID has given many people a craving for a simpler lifestyle that was not yet achieved, as house-to-house policies provide more flexibility.
“Quality of life is becoming more important,” Pike said. “It’s just an easier lifestyle, more laid back, more relaxed.”
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Steve Jordan, a New Brunswick native and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, says it sees more Ontarioians avoid greening pastures as the province wreaks havoc.
He described the incident as a primitive fight or flight response on display.
“Jordan hasn’t worked – we just keep coming back after wave after wave,” Jordanes said. “So the next natural thing would be to flee.”
The desire to be liberated due to stress and anxiety may be influenced by some views as unsafe living conditions, Jordanes says, adding that the epidemic has affected bright lights and big-city attractions for some people.
They say that swapping densely populated city life for more space is one way to reduce perceived risk.
While Ontario’s COVID cases had been growing steadily for months before the recent closure, Atlantic provinces are now seeing spikes in viral activity.
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Nova Scotia recorded a daily high of 148 new cases on Saturday and 133 more on Sunday.
While this is of some concern to the Larabees, the case count is still lower than the 1,198 reported on Sunday in Toronto.
The rate of active cases in Ontario on Sunday was 253.79 per 100,000 people, compared to 72.8 in Nova Scotia.
Rebecca Larabee will not work when they arrive in Nova Scotia – Lee has already secured a job as a tattoo artist in a neighboring city + reducing her risk of contracting the virus.
“We want a different lifestyle in general, but we want to be safe for (Rebecca),” Lee Larabee said.
“We love Toronto. We have family and friends here … (but) we want us to get somewhere old and close to nature. This is what gives us peace. “
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