Ian and Diana deZeeuw landed in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, after a grueling 30-hour-plus trip from Ontario during Thanksgiving weekend 2011. What brought them was inexpensive real estate, warmer climate (Nova Scotia is truly Canada’s Florida), and an appreciation for the natural beauty of the province. Despite some ups and downs, they haven’t looked back.
Ian grew up in a Christian family on a dairy farm in Lansdowne, Ontario, with his two younger brothers and a younger sister. The family moved to Bloomfield where they purchased a fruit and vegetable farm. Ian also worked for Canada Post and Becker’s Milk. He and his parents owned and managed two small convenience/grocery stores in Brockville then Athens.
Diana was raised in New York and Connecticut. She is an only child. Her mother was born in Brockville, Ontario, and Diana had close ties with her Canadian family throughout her childhood. In her late teens, she moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, with her parents after her father was appointed manager of the Uniroyal branch in Sao Paulo. She received her BA in Economics from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After graduating, she returned to New York and worked for Rolling Stone, Fund for Animals and (after converting to Christianity) Christian Herald magazine as assistant editor. In order to pursue her passion for fiction writing, she moved to the house her parents owned on Charleston Lake, Ontario, for what was supposed to be a short-term writing sabbatical. She wrote several novels and short stories, mainly for youth.
Ian and Diana met in the local Athens Baptist church. Diana became a dual citizen (U.S. and Canada) and took on part-time jobs with two government ministries. She worked as a support worker to developmentally challenged individuals with Brockville and Area Community Living Association and as a team assistant with Community Care Access Centre. Ian, meanwhile, worked for Esso at a service centre on the 401 near Mallorytown and for the Brockville Country Club. During his free time he pursued long-held interests such as amateur photography and handyman services.
They purchased bungalows in Prescott and Lyn before finally building a house, barn, workshop and greenhouse on 220 vacant acres in Lyn. Ian completed the lion’s share of the construction work. This farm became Noah’s Farm, one of the largest exotic animal farms in Eastern Ontario, with close to 500 and 40 plus breeds of animals and birds at its height in the mid-2000’s. They operated a farm B&B and conducted farm tours as well as selling fibre, breeding stock and plants.
In October 2011 they moved to Nova Scotia. Ian had purchased what was then Dee Wee’s Takeout and Convenience Store in Hillsburn (overlooking the Bay of Fundy north of Annapolis Royal) but soon became Fundy’s Mountain General Store. They also bought a one-and-a-half-storey house at 824 Hollow Mountain Road, Delaps Cove. They soon became familiar with real life in a Nova Scotia fishing community. And Diana learned how to prepare deep-fried foods in a hurry.
In January of 2013 they purchased a 7-1/2-acre hobby farm at 440 Purdy Road in Deep Brook with an older house, garage and barn. The plan was to start a new more animal-focused business from the site in time. Similar to Noah’s Farm but on a much smaller scale.
In September they sold Fundy’s Mountain General Store but instead of developing the Deep Brook property as planned, they purchased a property in Smiths Cove (which sits on the Annapolis River Basin near the town of Digby). They had brought much of their stock, shelving and some equipment from the Hillsburn store. They converted the mobile home into a store (convenience/general) and used the large two-storey shed in the back as a workshop and for storage.
The Three Little Bears Cottage Store was born — a combination convenience/general store with a plant section, Christian book department (called the Bread of Life Christian Bookshelf to denote its modest size), consignment corner and Dutch foods/local produce area. Realizing plans for a dairy bar as well as a pet store with live pets, specialty pet foods, and livestock feed and supplies were reserved for future development.
In May 2014, Diana’s mother, Betty, moved up from Florida to live with Ian, Diana and critters. Born and raised in Ontario, Betty is Canadian by birth but lived much of her adult life in the United States after marrying Diana’s father, an American from Indiana, during the World War II years. They considered Hollow Mountain Road as a possible home location, but it would not offer Betty the privacy she needed. So in July 2014, they moved to a new location at 20 Waldeck Line Road, Deep Brook.
They converted the 121 Highway 1 property back into a residential unit and rented it in the fall. Their plans at the time were to finally develop their long-waiting Purdy Road property (which is very close to Waldeck Line Road) into a farm store with pets, farm supplies and feed, greenhouse with plants and soils, as well as to expand the Christian bookstore and Dutch products line. Then beef up the tourist accommodations already in place at 20 Waldeck Line Road (cabin and outhouse) with additional wilderness cabins and tent sites on its 50 plus acres with established trails, gorgeous views of the Annapolis River Basin and Digby, as well as access to a Bear River beach. Ian spent the winter of 2014-2015 not only cutting wood in the awe-inspirng 50 acres of bush beside the new house but developing his photography business, with the goal of printing and selling original Nova Scotia postcards. He also launched Greedy Bear’s Chipper Service, a resurrection of his Professional Handyman Service that he had operated in Ontario but with an emphasis more on snow removal, lawn care, excavation work — small jobs to suit the tailored needs of individual customers.
As plans often do, they changed rather drastically over the coming months. The beginnings of a fruit and vegetable business was started on the fields of the Purdy Road property but didn’t develop much farther. Ian and Diana decided it made the most sense to operate a business right from Waldeck. But although it was a beautiful part acre immediately around the house, it was also situated on a South Mountain incline. Not conducive to setting up a retail operation, without some serious landscaping. They decided purchasing an economical mobile trailer and converting it into a store would be the quickest way to get up and running and managed to secure the perfect trailer from a local contractor who conveniently also offered large-scale excavating services (beyond Ian’s small-scape scope). Soon an area below the house was created that was wide and long enough to hold a trailer plus a few other structures, including the 34-foot Prowler park model in which Ian and Diana had spent the winter of 2013-2014 beside their new store in Smiths Cove. This was to become the site of the new Christian bookstore, while the trailer was to be a pet store. Two sheds were ordered, one for livestock feed and supplies (that is, if they were successful in convincing a feed company to give them a distribution contract) and the other primarily for a Nova Scotia Power connection.
After gutting and renovating the trailer, it didn’t take long for Ian and Diana to fill the building with pets, used cages and aquariums, and other assorted animal supplies. Birds (lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies), guinea pigs, chinchillas, degus, hamsters, gerbils were all situated comfortably inside the trailer; fish and hedgehogs were set up in the house; rabbits occupied their own hutches and a camper torn apart and rebuilt just for them.
Then came the inevitable: change of plans. This time fairly radical. It started with Ian (who yearned for a more agricultural setting) and after a while Diana (who had sworn in July 2014 that she would not move again for another 10 years minimum) got on board. Rather than be split between two properties, as close as they were to each other geographically, they decided to concentrate on the Purdy Road property, with its nearly seven acres of beautifully flat previously cultivated field (flat land is not as easy to find in Nova Scotia as Ontario). So as fall turned into winter, the consensus was to sell Waldeck, tear down much of the old house at Purdy (the parts barely standing on rotted sills), and move the trailer (along with furry and feathered residents, of course), sheds and campers there. Then purchase a decent manufactured home to set up on the Purdy Road property, which fortunately already has services such as electricity, well and septic.
Over the winter of 2015-2016, mainly Ian (with some reluctant help from Diana, who had decided long ago that dismantling old houses really was not her thing) chiseled away at the decaying house on Purdy Road, determined to salvage as much of the building materials as possible and preserve one section that was still viable. They did not operate a store as such from Waldeck but did sell a few pets, mainly via Kijiji. Diana kept busy looking after her mother and relishing the new opportunities the Internet presented for freelance writing and editing. Amazon’s direct publishing program turned out to be an indie writer’s dream come true.
What will 2016 bring? That’s anyone’s guess. Are Ian and Diana ready to move back to Ontario yet? Not yet, not by a long shot, but they have decided that selling all but one of their Nova Scotia real estate properties would be a sane and prudent move! Inexpensive properties are a real lure, but at times one can have too much of a good thing.