The Move: Two die-hard digital nomads finally settle at a former parsonage in Nova Scotia

(Photography by Andrew Tolson)

The buyers: Dalene Heck, who’s 47, and her husband, Pete, who’s 46. They co-own a digital marketing company.

The budget: $400,000

The backstory: Dalene and Pete were digital nomads long before it was cool. Back in 2007, the couple were living in a 2,100-square-foot detached house in Okotoks, Alberta. Every day, they commuted an hour each way to Calgary to work corporate jobs they didn’t love—Dalene in supply-chain management and Pete in accounting. Then, within a few short months, two of their close family members died and they found out they wouldn’t be able to conceive a child without substantial medical intervention. Dalene and Pete had always talked about taking an extended trip, but life kept getting in the way. “At that point, we’d run out of reasons not to travel,” Dalene says. They decided to quit their jobs, sell their house and see the world, initially planning to return to Alberta within a year. They were gone for nearly eight.

The couple travelled to 60 countries during their long sojourn. Along the way, they started a remote content and social media marketing business, using any revenue to fund their lifestyle, and house-sitting to save on expenses. In November of 2016, the couple was stopped in Seattle when Dalene fell sick and was admitted to a local ER. Doctors soon discovered that her blood platelet count was dangerously low; she was diagnosed with leukemia soon after. The couple decided it would be best to ride out Dalene’s treatment and recovery in the comfort of home, so they purchased a two-bedroom townhouse in Lethbridge in May of 2017.

By the summer of 2020, Dalene’s leukemia was in remission and the couple were house-sitting once again, this time for a month in Canmore. They did plenty of soul-searching in the mountains, mulling over their next big move. In the long term, settling abroad didn’t feel like a viable option, but they didn’t feel completely at home in Lethbridge either—partly because, according to Dalene, the summer heat is unbearable. Their minds kept wandering back to their dozen-plus visits to Nova Scotia, four of which took place during their remote-work years. “My grandfather was from Newfoundland, so I’m drawn to the sea,” Pete says. The coast would also be much cooler than Lethbridge.

Dalene and Pete waited out the worst of COVID before hitting the road again. They offloaded their townhouse (for $250,000) in May 2022, and that summer, they were on the move. Pete and Dalene’s brother-in-law drove a U-Haul packed with the couple’s belongings to Truro, Nova Scotia, where they’d rented a storage unit. The Hecks then rented Dalene’s aunt and uncle’s empty apartment in Edmonton. A month later, they started their meandering, cross-country trek to Nova Scotia, with stopovers in Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Ottawa and Quebec City. They’d been perusing Nova Scotia listings for a while, but after years of roaming, Dalene and Pete were quite comfortable leaving home without having another locked down. “We just trusted that things would work out,” Dalene says. “They always have.”

The hunt: Dalene and Pete arranged for a long-term cottage rental in Shortts Lake, Nova Scotia—the headquarters for their province-wide home search. At that point, the post-pandemic housing market was red-hot. Hurricane Fiona further complicated the Hecks’ search when she arrived that fall. They quickly nixed the idea of owning beachside property, instead prioritizing homes that were close to, but not directly on, the coast. The Annapolis Valley, with its abundant produce and moderate temperatures, topped the Hecks’ list. Their property criteria? Three bedrooms, a safe ocean or lake view and proximity to the Halifax airport. (They planned on flying frequently.)

In early November, the Hecks spotted a listing for a four-bedroom century home in the former fishing port of Margaretsville. The home was a former parsonage, built in 1913, and listed for the very reasonable 2022 price of $363,000. It was originally owned by the town’s United Baptist church, which sold it in the ’80s. Its original carved-wood staircase and stained-glass windows remained. Other attractive sells included a living room (complete with electric fireplace), a barn (for storage), more than half an acre of land and stunning (distant) views of the Bay of Fundy. “The home charmed our socks off,” Dalene says.

The home also had a few less-than-charming features. Its two bathrooms were side by side, connected by a door. The kitchen, while newly renovated, lacked appliances. The property was also afflicted with a “wet basement,” a common occurrence in Nova Scotia but news to the Hecks. “Water tends to leak into every old house around here,” Pete says. Fortunately, none of those issues were deal-breakers. The day after their viewing, the Hecks submitted an offer of $340,000, a low-ball figure due to the lack of appliances. The owner, a landlord living in Ontario, countered with $357,000—the sale conditional on a home inspection. They closed weeks before Christmas. “We weren’t handy, and we’d just bought a hundred-year-old home,” Pete says, “but we could see ourselves here for a long time.”

The Hecks took possession of the parsonage last January, but stayed in Shortts Lake until their rental agreement was up in mid-March. That month, they retrieved their belongings from their storage unit in Truro. They were too tired to carry their mattress upstairs on moving day, so they temporarily set up their bed in the living room—and soon realized that, thanks to minimal insulation, they could feel the full effects of a storm that had settled over the area. “It was -40 outside and nine degrees on the main floor,” Dalene recalls. “We slept with toques on, plus every blanket we owned, but we were still so excited.”

In the months since, the Hecks have busied themselves with repairs. An old, leaky chimney is now sealed, and they’ve installed a generator to keep their sump pump working—and their basement dry—if the power cuts out during a storm. Most importantly, with winter coming, they’re planning to install a heat pump and insulate the cellar and attic, where Pete recently discovered a book of hymns lodged in the wall.

In contrast to their new home, Margaretsville’s few hundred residents have extended a warm welcome to the come-from-aways. One woman, a former volunteer with the United Baptist church, was already well acquainted with the Hecks’ house, and the Hecks recently gave her a tour so she could see the renovations. (“She was responsible for changing the wallpaper—many times—in our bedroom, to get it ready for new pastors,” Dalene says.) A local community hall fundraises with pancake breakfasts and ice cream sales; Dalene and Pete have already volunteered for a few shifts.

Surprisingly, Dalene and Pete haven’t felt any wanderlust since their move. “We’re getting older,” Pete says, “we don’t want to strap on backpacks and be gone for months at a time.” These days, they spend most of their free time tooling around Nova Scotia, recently to Yarmouth (for its astronomy-themed Starlight Festival) and Digby (to enjoy Scallop Days, a celebration of Pete’s favourite food). Since the pandemic, they’ve scratched any travel itches by developing their own card game called “Trip Chaser,” the goal of which is to buy, barter and gamble one’s way to various destinations. A lot of the couple’s best travel memories are baked into the game.

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