Wicked Ideas

Hey kids! Do you need to leave the Maritimes? Or do you want to?


Why do people leave the Maritimes? Are they pushed out or pulled? That’s the question Michael Haan, a straight-talking demographer at the University of New Brunswick wants to answer.

Michael studies migration patterns in the Maritimes, which means he knows a lot about goin’ down the road. He knows Maritimers have for decades taken off in droves for Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. It’s practically a rite of passage, which makes him wonder: How old are Maritimers when they make the decision to leave? Is it something we did, or didn’t do that sent them packing? Or, are they tempted away by the promise of something better?

To put it in the language popular with politicians: it’s a question of need versus want.

Do you need to leave the Maritimes? Or do you want to?

Check out Michael’s wicked question – and let us know what you think.


Lisa Hrabluk

Writer. Social Thinker. Founder, Wicked Ideas. Find me hanging out where culture, people and ideas collide. wickedideas.ca


  • Hi Michael, I found your question via facebook. I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but left the Maritimes in 2001 at age 21. I had finished my undergrad degree and a summer internship in my field of choice but was unable to obtain a permanent full-time position in the Maritimes. I’ve been in B.C. and Alberta ever since and I do not expect to return other than for visits. I believe that now that I have more experience and qualifications, I probably could get a job in the Maritimes, but from what I know from industry data, I could expect a salary around half of what I earn in Alberta. The cost of living would be somewhat lower in the Maritimes than in Alberta, but it wouldn’t be half, especially with a higher income tax rate factored in. So I don’t see it as possible to return without sacrificing the quality of life I’ve become accustomed to in Alberta, and I’m simply not willing to do that.

    I think it’s hard to put such a complex personal decision into terms as simple as need versus want. I am sure I could have found a way to stay in the Maritimes, or to return, but not without sacrificing my career ambitions; that’s a question of personal priorities, and I value a rewarding career over living where I grew up. I think my story is pretty common, but I hope that helps.

  • Depends what kind of “leaving”. I “left” in my teens/early 20s to do an exchange at a UK university, backpacked in Europe, worked in the US for a summer. I highly recommend those as “want” experiences to broaden your horizons. Ideally we would have been able to settle in the Maritimes long term with fulfilling career opportunities. When we moved to Ontario in the fall it was more of a “need” because there were no comparable career opportunities for me in NB. I made all the noise I could to all my contacts, even my MLA, and lots of people were looking out for me, but after a few months getting by as a freelancer I had to jump on something more solid. It seems almost every friend I have back home is under-employed if at all.

  • Hello! I found this through Facebook as well and might as well help in getting the discussion going. As I write this I am packing my things up to move from New Brunswick to Alberta! This latest move is my second from the Maritimes. I first went from Fredericton to Toronto when I was 24 with no motivation other than to try out a new, bigger city and see what exciting opportunities were out there. I returned to my hometown of Moncton after a year when my health started to decline. I was also missing my family and wanted to be closer to nature.

    My plan in moving back was to stay here and “settle down” so to speak, but I was diagnosed with cancer at 25 and that has severely shifted my priorities around. Being involved in the health system so soon in life made me realize how important it is to be near good hospitals and an innovative provincial health department. I am very excited for the health resources, professionals, and support programs I’ll have access to in Alberta.

    Another big factor in my moving is that French is not my primary language, and it makes working in my field extremely difficult. The French-English conflict in the Moncton area is ever-ongoing and makes for a nasty culture sometimes that I do not want to be a part of.

    I am not sure if I’ll ever return to New Brunswick. I often see this province as a “sinking ship” that I’m jumping off of before it’s too late. But it’s hard to predict what will happen. Mostly right now I’m just excited to explore the mountains of Alberta, a new, bigger city, and take advantage of the world instead of sticking to just one place.

  • I left the Maritimes originally to attend University in Ontario, then returned. I then left again a few years later to work in Banff, Alberta, then returned for a while, and then went to work in British Columbia. After a year in BC, I returned again for a year, and then went back to Banff.

    Following my second stay in Banff, I went to Australia on a working holiday visa, and wound up marrying an Australian… I now live in Australia with my husband and two children.

    In answer to the question, though, I don’t think I ever left out of ‘necessity’… More a restlessness and yen for adventure. I love the Maritimes, and always intended to move back after my travels.

    I met many other Maritimers out West, however, who had left the East for economic reasons, and until the economy improves I don’t think we will be seeing many of them move back.

  • I also found this video via Facebook and am interested in hearing others’ stories. I’m from rural New Brunswick and love love love being in the Maritimes and every time I go home, I ponder ways to mesh my love for home and my career aspirations, which would bring me almost anywhere except the Maritimes! … I am in the field of International Development.

    I first left the Maritimes on student exchange at the age of 20 (France), then again at 22 (Mexico), then for work at 24 (France) and for studies at 25 (Ottawa)…. I always intended to return because the family ties, the ocean, the people and communities are all very important to me.

    However, there are few career options in my field for me in the Maritimes. The few organizations who do work in the field of international development do not hire very often. As it is now, the only way I could see myself return for good is either to consider a shift in my career path and focus on more local initiatives or keep hoping that a position opens up for which I am qualified. I would be willing to sacrifice a bit of salary or rank to find something I love in the Maritimes but for now, Ottawa offers more dynamic options and better chances at expanding my career.

    I hope the Maritime provinces continue supporting local initatives, community development efforts and start ups as they are the future of the area! There is a lot of movement in the Maritimes and I hope it doesn’t fade because of lack of funding…

  • Hi everyone – thanks for the great opening comments. That sense of adventure each of your touch on is what brought me to the Maritimes from southern Ontario. I thought I’d try it out, build my portfolio – a must for any journalist – and then try for something else back home. We’re still here, 15 years later, because I kept finding interesting things to pursue, however I often wonder what would I have built if I had gone home.

    I think each of you are saying that your first exit was because you wanted to see the world. But let me ask you this, did you truly believe you would return to something great? Or did a voice in your head tell you this might be a one-way trip?


  • I am on my second migration. After leaving NB for Toronto in my teens, and building a good life there, I met my husband on a vacation home. He joined me in Toronto and we lived a great 12 years there, never worrying about having work. We became part of the Yuppie generation, upwardly mobile, with no children.
    We were both homesick at times, but saw no future in the Maritimes…until…the biological clock kicked in and we wanted a family. We wouldn’t consider raising our children anywhere but home, in the warmth of a large and loving extended family. The next 20 years was a constant struggle. There was never enough work, we worked 2 or 3 jobs at a time, and tried our own small businesses. Everyone around us dealt with the same thing. We were conscientious parents, and felt that our children were safe, and that having grandmothers around was of more value than all the monetary rewards that the city, and Ontario had to offer. So we struggled…
    The kids grew up fine, happy , healthy, well adjusted, and educated.
    Then, they left the Maritimes.
    Shortly thereafter, so did we. The culture of defeat was crushing. No one we knew was happy, or positive about anything, and people our age were dying all around us.
    Now, we are in our 50’s, living in BC. We are making a good living, with a great active lifestyle, and so are all the people we know.
    I don’t know what it is in the East that keeps people so beaten down, but I do know that there is something! Until, we find a way to change that mindset, our young people will continue to flee…and frankly I don’t blame them.

  • Hi everyone!

    I posted here yesterday, but for some reason it didn’t appear (likely user error). So, this is round 2, and now I have to remember what I said that last time!

    I have been reading everyone’s comments with great interest, and I find it useful to hear the thoughts of people ‘on the ground’, as part of my job here in NB is to assist the provincial government with its labour market development strategies. If you haven’t read the strategy, I think it’s worth checking out.

    There’s no denying that the Maritimes have a relatively ‘thin’ labour market. There are fewer opportunities in nearly every sector, and many sectors have no jobs at all. In the past, people (not just here, but everywhere in Canada) knew too little about the jobs that would be waiting for them when they finished school, r they were given the wrong advice. I am 38, and I clearly remember my high school guidance counselor in London, Ontario, encouraging me to pursue a career in elementary or secondary education. Now that I know a little bit more about demography, I have a better sense of how bad that advice was. Luckily (?), I was filled with teenage defiance, and didn’t listen.

    New Brunswick’s ‘thin’ labour market makes it doubly important to provide accurate labour market information to our young people. We in the Maritimes have lost far too much talent, and we can’t afford not to try to combat what seems to be the biggest reason for out-migration: labour market opportunities.

    There are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15 in New Brunswick (and, likely, across the Maritimes), and this is likely to be true for quite a while. Many of these older people have money, spare time, and a fairly open mind. I have trouble believing that there’s no opportunity with this kind of population structure – the tricky part is identifying those opportunities.

    Again, thanks to everyone for joining the conversation. I’ll keep following along.

August 2018
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