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“I left Toronto to see if I could hack it in the country. Boy, could I. Now I’ve gone even deeper into the woods”

Mid-pandemic, David Eddie and his wife, Pam, ditched Toronto and gave country living a try, a story he told us in vivid and hilarious detail three years ago. Now, an update from the rural frontier: the transplants have doubled down

By David Eddie
David Eddie riding his new tractor outside of his new home

There are a lot of stories out there of people who—prompted by Covid or the desire for a more peaceful, cheaper, traffic-and-construction-free existence—decided to pull up stakes, leave Toronto and seek a quieter life in the country. Often, they discover they hate the reality of small-town life and thereupon return, grateful and relieved, to the city.

Well, this isn’t one of those stories. This is a story of a couple who went the other way: from “country lite” to the very heart of rural living.

My wife, Pam, and I thought we were lifelong urbanites. We met at a downtown book launch, got married in a downtown church, hung out with downtown friends, sent our kids to downtown schools—you get the idea. As you may recall from this storyToronto Life’s most popular long-read of 2021—in 2020, after living in the vicinity of Trinity Bellwoods Park for 27 years, we decided to sell our downtown home and seek quieter pastures. Green acres, baby!

We had similar discontents, I think, as many others who left around that time—“the great urban exodus.” The pandemic had the city in lockdown. Suddenly you couldn’t go to restaurants or bars or movies or your friends’ houses. Those who ventured out into the streets were grumpy and socially distant. Pam, instead of zipping around town as a news reporter, had to report using Zoom and its equivalents and file from our living room or front porch. In our free time, we played Scrabble and Boggle and watched TV until our eyes ached.

Meanwhile, all the usual urban problems were starting to get under our skin, especially construction and traffic. Oh, man, Toronto traffic. Even Tom Cruise made a crack about it when he was here shooting a film—and he’s from Los Angeles! Pam, usually a calm, grounded person, would lose it in traffic. She’d yell and scream and curse at other drivers, occasionally giving them the finger. Other times she’d try to dial it back, internalize her frustration and burst into tears.

Looming large in our minds was the debt we’d accumulated over the years, essentially using our house as a credit card to pay for renovations, vacations, cars and so forth. At the same time, as our neighbourhood gentrified, our house—which we’d purchased in 1999 for $300,000—kept going up in value, to the tune of about $100,000 a year. We were cash poor but had a fair amount of equity lurking in that crumbling Victorian pile.

So, one day in 2020, Pam and I decided to sell the Trinity Bellwoods home we’d lived in for more than two decades—for the once-unimaginable price of $2.5 million. We crammed all our crap in a truck and moved to a 100-acre farm we’d rented in the middle of nowhere (okay, an hour outside of the city, just west of Brantford) for $2,800 a month. Somewhere in there we acquired a large farm dog.

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Pam claims she was always a country girl at heart. But, in the early days, I wound up having many of the same regrets as other urbanites who moved to the country. I found myself missing my friends, Chinatown, Kensington Market, book launches, not having to drive everywhere, serendipitous encounters where someone might offer you a job or invite you to a party, being able to saunter across the street for a bagel and a latte and a $12 juice, kibitzing with my neighbours, decent seafood, dim sum, kimchi...

But, despite my regrets, Pam and I didn’t turn tail and come flying back to Toronto. Instead, we learned to enjoy rural living. It helped that, meanwhile, the real-estate market was imploding due to high interest rates. Eventually, it made sense to stop hedging our bets by renting and buy. So, last year, we doubled down and started looking at homes in an even more rural spot.

In October of 2023, we bought a 32-acre property near Hagersville, Ontario, and we made the move in January. It’s a small house, but it has a large main room with 22-foot ceilings and windows that go right to the top, so it feels spacious and is sunlit most of the day. We built a 22-foot fireplace up to the ceiling, no small feat. A two-storey scaffold was involved. Now we spend most of our time there, asking each other, “Who needs more than one nice room?”

The living room of David Eddie's new home in the country
The kitchen living room of David Eddie's new home in the country

Here’s a bunch of stuff I, a formerly devout urbanite—a former Manhattanite—never thought I’d say about any place I lived: there’s a creek (Sandusk Creek) running through it; there’s a pond; we use a golf cart, bequeathed by the former owner, to get around. There’s even a golf course. Okay, it’s just one hole, but it’s a par four with two water hazards—you have to hit the ball over two bends in the creek.

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This massive pond-and-creek-sporting property, complete with our cute little house, cost $1,175,000—less than half of what our fancy-pants downtown domicile, with its postage-stamp yards front and back, sold for. Thanks to that fact, we’re now happily mortgage-free.

Upon landing in the country, one of our first purchases was a ride-on mower, and it always seemed emblematic to me of our new life: the fact that we need a vehicle to mow our lawn. With a push mower, by the time we’d finish one part of the lawn, the first part would have grown back. We’ve since upgraded from that first ride-on mower, which, by comparison, was a child’s toy. The beastly machine I now use to mow the lawn is called a Kubota, also bequeathed by the former owner. To be perfectly honest, at first I wasn’t even sure how to turn it on. It has both shovel and digger attachments. Even with all that power, the former owner told me it took him two full days to mow the lawn—and he got up at 5:30 a.m.

David Eddie on his tractor with a view of the creek on his property

And what woke him at that hour? An alarm clock? His cellphone? No: a rooster. A rooster that would run after him, along with his dogs, as he rode around the property in his golf cart. Now Pam and I are planning to populate our property with animals too: chickens (no rooster—that would drive us nuts), another dog, maybe a goat, maybe an emu, ideally even a small donkey (inspired by The Banshees of Inisherin, in which that donkey stole the show).

For now, we have two dogs and a cat. We’ve installed a “dog shower” in our laundry room. Pam and I used to roll our eyes at real-estate listings that mentioned dog showers. What a crazy, dumb, rich-person luxury, we thought. But we take it all back now. It’s quite muddy here. “We bought a swamp,” Pam has muttered more than once. (Surely an exaggeration, but it is true that, partly due to tiny tributaries criss-crossing our lawn and the spring thaw in general, it is really rather moist. I advise urbanites who visit to bring sensible footwear.) The dogs go in and out of the house a dozen times a day (they’re “free range”—one thing I don’t miss about city life is having to walk our dog, Murphy, three times a day), with muddy paws and sometimes muddy heads from going after animals that live in holes. The dog shower is an absolute necessity.

The dog shower

Now, I’m even considering getting a shotgun. There are a lot of coyotes—even a number of fearsome mythical-sounding hybrid creatures called coywolves—prowling the perimeter of our property at night, howling at the moon. And if a coywolf were to attack one of our dogs? Well, here’s another thing I never thought I’d say: I might have to come out blasting.

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It’s not all rosy. I keep saying to my Toronto friends, “Hey, I’m only an hour and change outside the city. Keep inviting me to stuff!” But, of course, if a bunch of folks are going to get together on short notice, they no longer include me in the group chat.

It makes me sad, but it’s the path I’ve chosen. And of course I’m not fully alone out here—I’ve got Pam. We’re empty nesters now: our three boys, or rather young men (all in their twenties), visit from time to time. And we have the animals. Am I starting to prefer the company of animals to that of humans? I wouldn’t go that far. But maybe I’m becoming a bit of a hermit. As a writer, I was always a bit of an “urban hermit” in the city anyway.

So why, you may be wondering, would I, a dyed-in-the-wool urbanite who by his own testimony misses his friends and lunches and brunches and dim sum and kimchi and whatnot—and doesn’t even have a driver’s licence, by the way, though I tend to keep that little tidbit on the down-low out here: it’s met with wide-eyed stares whenever I mention it—choose to go deeper into the heart of of rural living rather than coming sheepishly back to the city?

Well, partly, Pam and I are obeying an impulse I’m not sure I fully understand myself, for peace and quiet and to be “away from it all.” I also love some of the people I encounter out here. Recently, for example, Pam and I went out for breakfast in Hagersville, but the restaurant was packed, and we elected to share a table with a mother-daughter duo who were also waiting in line. We wound up hitting it off to the point where I festively picked up the tab—and you have no idea how rare that is.

Maybe part of my contentment has to do with getting older. Pam keeps saying this is our “forever home,” even though we both hate that term—I more than she, maybe. Whenever she says those words, I imagine being carried out of our “forever home” in a pine box.

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David Eddie and his wife Pam ride their golf cart with their two dogs

All in all, though, it’s a recipe for a pleasant life. It’s not that I no longer care about the concerns and amenities and attractions of city life. I spent my whole life as a city kid—taking the subway to movies, grabbing sushi with friends, going to concerts, concrete under my sneakers, noise in my ears, pollution in my nostrils. I loved it all. But I’m only an hour and a half away. We’ve even kept our family doctor in the city (no way I’m giving her up easily). Now if only I could convince my friends I haven’t moved to the dark side of the moon.

These days, I find that small doses of city life go a long way. Mostly, I’d rather hop in my little golf cart; ride down to the creek—ideally with Pam in the passenger seat, dogs following behind with their tongues hanging out—find a pretty spot to park; listen to the wind rustle in the leaves, the birds chirping in the trees, water gurgling in the creek; and ponder the mysteries of life, here in our (ugh, I really do hate this term) “forever home.”

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