Places I’ve Lived: Above a Coffee House, a Subsistence Farm in Tuscany, and a Chain of Remote Islands
Sept. 2004-April 2005: Room 106, Alexandra Hall residence, University of King’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia. $4,000 per term, including a meal plan
I moved from the smallest farming community in southern Alberta to this shared room along the Atlantic coast. My mom packed my stuff at home into boxes and sent them two weeks ahead of me on the Greyhound bus. My roommate was from St. John, New Brunswick, and we are still friendly—this is noteworthy considering our tiny room was crammed with two single beds, two desks, two closets and dressers, two chairs. We lived on top of one another and we were high school students who couldn’t time manage. I had a pot that you could plug into the wall, to make ramen noodles and Kraft dinner. The first floor of Alex Hall is nicknamed “the Virgin Vault” but we figure that was a reference to the other wing, surely.
July 2005-Sept. 2006: Above the Coburg Coffee House, Halifax, Nova Scotia. $500/month
Instead of moving in with a friend from Alex Hall, I chose a tiny room with an ensuite bathroom (luxury!) in a flat with five strangers. They were all amazing and only one was a drug dealer possibly. There was a G.I. Jane poster on the living room wall. Our landlord’s wife owned the coffee shop below, so I was essentially just shoving all my money into his pockets. This apartment had a big kitchen with a dishwasher and laundry machine, which I took for granted. Now I am 27 and have neither of those things.
Sept. 2006-April 2007: Duncan St., Halifax, Nova Scotia. $415/month
All those strangers were moving on and I didn’t want to upkeep what had become a disgusting apartment, so I moved in with two girls from my journalism program. We shared a three-bedroom townhouse and every wall was a different color. My room had no windows, which was probably illegal, but the whole place was just so big. The kitchen floors were checkerboard! The bathtub was large! Now I am 27 and have neither of those things.
April 2007-Aug. 2007: Residence on Bloor St., Toronto, Ontario. $500/month
This was the summer of the “big” “internship.” Online from Halifax, I found a high-rise building that had been turned into a private residence for exchange students in downtown Toronto. I shared a kitchen and bathroom with a girl from Japan learning English as I commuted 1,000,000 subway stops to a magazine office each day. The fire alarm went off at least five times per week in the building, and mice lived IN THE OVEN. So I went on a raw diet. I feel now that it was a pretty gross place to live, but I didn’t at the time.
Sept. 2007-Sept. 2008: Quinpool, Halifax, Nova Scotia. $375/month
After the internship I moved in with my boyfriend to a huge apartment above an accountant’s office in Halifax. When we moved in, our landlord showed us how to use the cable and informed us that the porn channels were included. He owned the tax office downstairs and gave my boyfriend a good deal on his return. We caught, on average, a mouse a day in this apartment. Our downstairs neighbor was a big fan of house music on a Tuesday night. It was still very beautiful.
Oct.-Dec. 2008: Easter Rd., Edinburgh, Scotland. £75/week
We moved to Edinburgh on a working holiday visa after I graduated from university—the Highlands were calling. We rented a room in this flat above a pub called “Perseverance.” Almost every night we heard massive fights outside the bar. Around the corner was the Hibernian FC soccer stadium, and we often walked through a sea of green scarves. We left because our two roommates invited their whole family from Portugal to live in the living room, and we realized we were paying almost all the rent.
Jan. 2009-May 2009: McDonald Rd., Edinburgh, Scotland. £75/week
A letting agent (which is a real estate agent but for rentals, because so many people rent in the U.K.) showed us a room in this flat, and then we learned that the housing council had taken over the flat because the owner was a known slumlord. (The more you know.) We made good friends with a nice girl from South Africa and her two-year-old son name Leo, who ate Weetabix and bananas for all meals and lived in the basement. The other rooms in the house were shared by a father-son team from Romania and two guys from India. One morning at 7 a.m. the flat was raided by the Border Police looking for illegal immigrants, but they didn’t find any. After we left, the flat was burgled.
May 2009-June 2009: Trove, Tuscany, Italy. Free
Trove is a subsistence farm in the Tuscany region of Italy, where we went to WWOOF (willing work on organic farms) before heading back to Canada. We shared a double room in the big stone house, owned by a couple that ran a custom travel agency. Then we moved into their basement apartment. Trove had been passed down through the generations and was surrounded by vineyards and olive trees. We tended the garden and read. We ate.
July 2009-Sept. 2012: Dovercourt, Toronto, Ontario. $900/month, and then $1,300/month
Our first apartment back in Canada was a two-bedroom basement apartment in Toronto’s west end. There were a lot of centipedes in the basement, which is a Toronto fable, apparently. After a year and a half, we moved to the apartment on the main floor. The apartments here were just a collection of nail holes from previous tenants, and if you looked closely, you could tell the whole thing was just falling apart—but on the surface, it was bright and had lots of windows. The landlord here let us adopt a dog. We had a big backyard, shared with the rest of the house, and it was full of random chairs and other furniture. We all became a big family and hung out on the front stoop a lot.
Sept. 2012-March 2013: North Beach, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. $300/month
In a bid to escape the city we drove from Toronto to Haida Gwaii, B.C. Haida Gwaii is a chain of remote islands off the Pacific coast—it’s wild. The drive took us 10 days and an eight-hour ferry ride. We rented a cabin along the north beach of the island, entirely off grid. It looked like the Burrow, where the Weasleys live in Harry Potter. In this cabin we weathered a few large earthquakes, a terrifying (but actually not dangerous) chimney fire from the wood stove, and many hangovers. We had to haul water every two days and do laundry at a closed campground. On certain days, in certain light, it was the closest to perfection I have ever seen.
May 2013-present: Elbow River, Calgary, Alberta. $1250/month
Now we’re back in the real world, and we rent a one-bedroom apartment in Calgary’s Mission neighborhood. We moved here in May 2013 and were promptly evacuated for six weeks in June, after a huge flood covered almost the whole city and ruined our building’s parking garage and main floor. We still live in a construction zone, but the apartment is home.
Lyndsie Bourgon is a writer and editor in Calgary.