Livin’ in a van down by the river…




When hearing about our van life, so many people have harkened back to Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live, his classic skit as Matt Foley, Livin in a van, down by the river. If you have not seen it, or it has been a while, check it out.

Last week we had our first true down by the river experience.

Bear River, Nova Scotia, is a classic Bay of Fundy community, defined by the rhythms of the world’s largest tides. Many of the downtown buildings in Bear River are up on stilts, built to absorb huge tides that back their way up the river. We had a great conversation with one of the owners of a downtown building. He showed us where water would sweep over the floor of his café during high tides or storms. No big deal, it would run off and work goes on as usual.

We had picked out a place to camp near Bear River that I thought would be great, but when we arrived it had very scary vibes, a real Deliverance feel. (We later learned that this initial Deliverance impression was not far off the mark.)

We met a local shopkeeper who asked us where we were staying for the night. When we said we were still looking for a place, she immediately got on the phone and made a call to a friend with a spot “down by the river.” She even offered up her own driveway.

I am still struck by the generosity, trust, and initiative that it took to offer perfect strangers a perch for their van overnight in your own driveway.

We ended up on her friend’s property for the night, on the banks of the Bear River, smelling fantastic coffee roasting at the Sissiboo coffee shop next door.

Our time in Bear River was such a great mix of exploring, meeting people, and learning about the place. The people are wonderful: interesting, passionate, and collaborative.

It turns out the community is basically unincorporated, so it is not quite right to call it a village, town, or other formal entity. This creates challenges such as the absence of a public water supply – a symptom of the lack of jurisdiction and governance.

Tribal roots and community, outstanding local artists, a great coffee roaster, a new bicycle repair place, and some surprising communal resources (like a community greenhouse) define this unique local culture in Bear River. All of this in a beautiful natural and historic environment. The tourist materials describe Bear River as “the perfect tiny village on stilts.”

There is a bed and breakfast and a great old church for sale down by the river. Interested?


4 thoughts on “Livin’ in a van down by the river…

  1. Lovely. You two are amazing. I am jealous of your adventures and look forward to future updates from the “Lawlorvan”.

    Btw… you may not want to come back from Canada.


  2. Sounds fabulous. You are going to have such great stories to share when you come back to STL. I look forward to hearing them.


    Tonya E. Edmond, Ph.D. (pronouns: she/her/hers)
    Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion & Equity, Associate Professor
    George Warren Brown School of Social Work
    Provost Faculty Fellow
    Washington University in St. Louis
    Campus Box 1196
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130

    [o] 314.935.8131 [f] 314.935.8511 [e]

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  3. Eddie and Betsy these posts are just amazing – pictures, stories, observations – thanks for sharing with all of us


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