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It’s a small world, after all

For some Dalhousie University and University of King’s College students, moving to Halifax from their hometowns was a big change in more ways than one — especially when it came to dating.  

In this image: A road in Woodstock, N.B.
Woodstock, N.B. is one of many small towns in Atlantic Canada. Dalhousie and King’s students describe dating as difficult in small towns like this one, often due to a lack of people and rural location. Photo by Elizabeth Foster

Small town Nova Scotia 

Addie Burkam, a second-year King’s student, is from Mahone Bay. Located on Nova Scotia’s south shore, the town has a population of just over a thousand people. Burkam attended high school in Bridgewater, just a 20-minute drive from Mahone Bay. Even though an estimated 2,000 students from surrounding towns attend the school, Burkam says pursuing relationships and meeting people was still a struggle.  

“There’s not a lot of options because everybody knows everybody,” Burkam says.  

Margaret Mclennon, also a second-year King’s student, describes a similar experience of living in rural Nova Scotia. Mclennon grew up in Sydney, a town of about 29,900 in Cape Breton. She graduated high school with a class of nine people.  

“I went to the French school there, which is a very small community in Sydney, because we don’t have a very large French-dominant speaking population,” Mclennon says. “In my class specifically, there was a total of two guys, one of which was gay. So yeah, not much choice. I did have a boyfriend in Grade 11 and 12, but he was from Eskasoni … so, if we wanted to see each other, it was a 40-minute drive, and it was so hard to coordinate all the time. So annoying, and not convenient at all.” 

Burkam and Mclennon both agree that despite the relatively small student population at King’s, moving to Halifax was a bit of a culture shock.  

“I’m so used to knowing all the people my age,” Burkam says. “It’s kind of shocking to me. I’ll go somewhere and expect to know all the people, you know? I’ll be surprised if I don’t recognize them because I’m so used to just recognizing every young person I know.” 

Nova Scotia is among the more rural provinces in Canada, with 43 per cent of its population living in towns with less than 1,000 inhabitants. However, it is not the most rural province in the Atlantic region. Newfoundland and Labrador has an estimated 60 per cent of its population living in rural areas.  

Growing up in Gander 

Reaghan MacLean is a third-year Dal student from Gander, N.L. Gander is among the more populous towns in the region, despite only having a population of roughly 11,700. MacLean describes how she felt stuck in a relationship she had back home with someone who cheated on her twice.  

“I feel like this is a universal high school thing, but everything feels like the end of the world,” MacLean says. “If you don’t date someone in high school, you will never find anyone. So, I really felt like the people in my town were the only options. Like, no one else exists in the world.”  

Living in a small town also made MacLean feel like she couldn’t be open about her bisexuality.  

“I never pursued any girls until I got to university because I knew people in my grade didn’t like that,” says MacLean. “People would tear pride flags that teachers put on their doors.”  

MacLean says she’s still nervous to talk about her sexuality openly on social media due to people from her hometown following her. 

“I’m sure, and I hope, there are other people in other small towns who have had different experiences,” MacLean says. “I don’t really think about it anymore because I’m here, but yeah, it prevented me from doing something that I wanted to do.” 

MacLean, Burkam and Mclennon all mention one key aspect of small town dating: people in school — and in town — are bound to talk.  

“One of my friends who went to one of the other high schools, she had a messy breakup,” Mclennon says. “It kind of made her reputation bad because everybody knew what happened. I guess rumors go around quicker.” 

“I feel like dating in a small town is becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Burkam says. “You have to be civil about it. Because you’re going to run into your ex, and you’re going to run into that random guy you hooked up with.” 

 “And you’re gonna see their parents everywhere you go,” adds Mclennon.  

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