Steve Carlson (Photo provided)
Steve Carlson (Photo provided)

Steve Carlson was a contractor in Philipstown for more than 30 years, until 2016, when he and his partner, Elizabeth Johnson, moved full-time to a home they owned on Big Tancook Island in Nova Scotia.

How did you end up on a Canadian island?
I was working at West Point when [President George W.] Bush bombed Baghdad [in 2003]. I could no longer, with any moral conscience, accept a check from the Department of Defense. I paid a lot of taxes in the U.S. and didn’t really receive anything in return. I realized if I worked just a little farther north, my tax dollars would come back to me. I voted with my dollars.

I called a friend in Montreal and started looking there, in Toronto and Ottawa; nice places but expensive and a lot of sprawl. In Nova Scotia, a real estate agent asked if I’d consider an island. My antennae popped up! Big Tancook is like Martha’s Vineyard 100 years ago. I bought 8 acres with a small house that I expanded. I can see the Atlantic Ocean all the way to France out my front door. From the backyard, I see Mahone Bay and Oak Island.

Big Tancook Island
Big Tancook Island is indicated on this map with the red wayfinder at right

What is island life like?
Big Tancook is 3 miles long and a mile wide, with 120 permanent residents and up to 200 in summer. The ferry from Chester takes 45 minutes and can carry one vehicle; I keep Tony Ricci’s old 2003 pickup on the island. There are no stores, bars, restaurants, gas stations or police. We have a K-5 school, post office, arts center and a seasonal bistro that isn’t open often. A mainland supermarket delivers to our wharf, so you don’t have to stock up or go off-island for groceries.

It’s an honor-system society. Neighbors are all wonderful; everybody looks after each other. It seems the “one bad apple” has been excluded from the island. And there is absolutely no stress. My school and property taxes combined are $980 ($735 U.S.). Canadians like to complain about their health care, but it’s so much better. It cured my cancer. All the tests, surgery and aftercare cost me $8, for parking. And they keep calling to check on me.

How do you earn a living?
I tried retirement but that’s as boring as the day is long. I worked on the lobster boats, late November through May, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., freezing and in brutal wind and weather. Eight years was enough. I entered Canada under the skilled labor category and when people saw me renovating my house, everyone wanted me to do work for them; bringing tradespeople out to the island is expensive. I do all the maintenance at the school and make repairs to the wharf for the harbor authority. I also do some work on Little Tancook Island, which has 28 souls.

Big Tancook Pond
Carlson on Big Tancook Pond, with his home in the background center.

What do you do for entertainment?
There are lots of house parties, game nights, things like that. Sometimes I wish for a hamburger or hot dog — something other than lobster. We have a pond and when it does freeze all the guys and girls get together with skates and sticks. I’m the best and only American player. A night out in Chester could include dinner at the Fo’c’sle, the oldest tavern in Nova Scotia. I argue it’s the oldest in Canada. Then the Playhouse, for music or a comedian or a play. The Royal Canadian Legion has a great pool table, dart leagues and inexpensive drinks. Most places close by 9 p.m. Then back on the ferry. No drinking and driving; it’s very safe.

How does the climate compare with the Highlands?
We have warmer winters and cooler summers because we’re surrounded by the ocean. A lot of the winter snow blows right off the island because it usually comes with wind. Not much snow lately. Spring is cooler. It can be cold and windy; I can wear a winter coat right into June. But then it’s gorgeous from July right through November; we have very nice autumns.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

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  1. We were amused and gratified by this delightful visit with Steve, thriving in Nova Scotia. He framed our new home on Moffat Road in 1998/9. We thought of him as an undeserved gift. Always unassuming and humorous, he worked with our great architect and my sons to build the house. Thanks for the visit. Well done!

  2. Loved the article about Steve Carlson. Great to hear he is doing so well and hasn’t lost his sense of humor. What a character he is.

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