“I moved to rural PEI during the pandemic, but working remotely was virtually impossible”: Why I returned to Toronto

“I moved to rural PEI during the pandemic, but working remotely was virtually impossible”: Why I returned to Toronto

I didn’t want to leave my quiet hometown for a Covid epicentre, but I missed the fast pace of the city

More from the Homecoming Club

Who: Ryan McKenna, 29
What he does: Account manager at a PR firm
His trajectory: Moss Park to Collingwood to Little Italy to Bedeque, PEI, to Little Italy

I moved to Toronto for the first time in 2011 to study journalism. It was a big change from growing up in Bedeque, a 300-person town in PEI. In some ways, the island will always be home. My three brothers and I still gather at my parents’ place for Christmas and milestone birthdays.

Before the pandemic struck, I was renting downtown, on Richmond and Sherbourne, and working as an associate editor for Sportsnet. Toronto felt like the place to be to grow both my network and my career. But, as everything started to close down in March 2020, I began to second-guess that assumption. The NBA and NHL had paused their seasons, and I was now working remotely. My girlfriend, Lauren, and I were both nervous about getting sick, so we went to stay at her parents’ winter home in Collingwood.

We figured we’d stay for a few weeks until the virus passed—and then ended up not setting foot in Toronto for about three months. I was happy in Collingwood. In a way, it was like PEI: we had more space, a yard, and I could go running and cycling without seeing too many people. Plus, we were still able to work remotely.

That October, Lauren and I decided that we wanted to move into our own place downtown to be close to our jobs for whenever offices reopened. We rented a beautiful two-bedroom in Little Italy for $2,400 per month and converted the second bedroom into an office so that we could both work from home. Despite us getting a nice deal on rent, I wondered whether living in the city made sense. We were at the heart of one of Toronto’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, but all the shops, bars and restaurants were shut down. We couldn’t safely host friends. We’d go for a walk and there would still be nobody in the streets.

Then came Christmas. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to go home for the holidays—PEI had a two-week quarantine requirement, and I had no place to self-isolate. I was crushed. I’m big on traditions like Christmas Eve mass and family dinners, and I would have to miss all of that. Fortunately, we were able to spend the holidays with Lauren and her family in Collingwood. I am so thankful for them. We had a huge turkey dinner and a wonderful time. Still, I missed my family.

Lauren and I were also uncomfortable living downtown. By January 2021, we were in yet another wave, and Doug Ford had said that there would be police officers monitoring the highways to discourage travel across provincial districts. As a respite from the lockdowns, we travelled back and forth from Collingwood on weekends to ski with Lauren’s family.

I eventually saw a perfect opportunity to take a break from Toronto and the lockdowns: my mom was turning 60 in early March. I flew to PEI, and a friend graciously vacated their apartment so I could quarantine. I was going nuts, walking around the house to reach my daily step goal as I waited for my brother to drop off groceries. When my 14 days were done, I surprised my mom at our house, and she was so shocked that she started sobbing.

The family home in Bedeque, PEI. Courtesy of Ryan McKenna

I started to wonder what it would be like to move back to PEI for good. Life was great on the island. There were few cases, and I felt safe despite there being no vaccines yet. Did it make sense to leave a place where the virus barely existed for a Covid epicentre? Worse, I knew that, as soon as I left, the feeling of not knowing when I’d see my parents again would return.

I stayed through March and made some of my best pandemic memories. I was able to spend time with my family and go to the bar in Charlottetown with friends I hadn’t seen in a year. I even made it to Halifax for my brother’s birthday. But living in rural PEI also had its challenges. I found it difficult to work remotely. In Toronto, even during lockdown, you could meet up with colleagues for socially distanced hangouts. On the island, it was impossible to see any co-workers in person. Building a network and finding new opportunities was also challenging from afar. Plus, the internet connection in rural PEI was not great. I couldn’t make video calls during high-traffic hours, between 3 and 5 p.m. I knew working there wasn’t sustainable.

But, first and foremost, I wanted to live with Lauren, and her career was in Toronto. So, in April 2021, I came back to Little Italy for good. The pace of life—the busy streets, the buzzing coffee shops, the chats with colleagues—motivates me to work harder here. It’s a mindset thing: I equate PEI with rest and Toronto with work. I now have a job as an account manager at a global PR firm.

I’ve also regained my social life now that pandemic restrictions have lifted. Lauren and I love having people over at our house and going out to local restaurants in Little Italy. I’m a big fan of Ted’s and their back patio. We get our morning brews at Sam James and have occasional dinners at Korean Village Restaurant or Matha Roti. Plus, I’m a big sports fan, and watching the Jays make their run for the playoffs was captivating.

Being in a place like PEI or Collingwood, where you can relax near family members, is good every now and then. It reminds me that I don’t have to be going through life at full speed all the time. But Toronto is where my life is now—it’s where I can continue to grow my relationship and career.