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Bridgewater couple left homeless after town orders them to leave RV on own land

Bolton and Kim Nicholson say they've weathered two years in an RV and a flood on their property, but it's the town hall that has them looking for a new home amid Nova Scotia's housing crisis.

Town bylaws prevent people from living in recreational vehicles

An older couple, Black man and white woman, stand together looking straight at the camera. They are outside in a treed area.

A Bridgewater couple says they've weathered two years in an RV and a flood on their property, but it's the town hall that has them looking for a new home amid Nova Scotia's housing crisis.

"I was gonna put a sign saying 'Town of Bridgewater, you win,'" Kim Nicholson said alongside her husband, Bolton.

The Nicholsons moved from British Columbia after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For years, Kim had been "singing the song of Nova Scotia" to convince him, Bolton said. Kim said she'd fallen in love with the province during a youth volunteer trip, so they bought a plot of land on Pine Street in Bridgewater.

They were originally renting a home elsewhere in Lunenburg County, but when that sold Kim said they were left with few choices.

So, 85-year-old Bolton — who had a career in construction — began cutting trees and clearing the land by hand. Eventually they had enough room to put a camper in the summer of 2021.

"It wasn't perfect, believe me, I fought it. I didn't want to be here, but it was better than nothing," Kim said.

The Nicholsons planned to build a small home on their land, but said the pandemic and a dispute over their property boundaries caused delays.

Bolton said he's still been busy: He planted a large vegetable garden, brought in gravel, got a shipping container for storage and built a covered wooden porch on the RV to house a furnace so they could stay warm in the winter.

"It's all been survival here — and it's like, we took care of ourselves. We didn't ask for help," said Kim, who works as a civil servant.

Order to remove RV issued in late June

Bolton said he finally has the blueprints in hand for their home, and planned to start the building permit process with the town soon. But the couple's time in the RV has run out.

The town's chief administrative officer, Tammy Crowder, said the land-use bylaw doesn't allow people to live in recreational vehicles on their property for any length of time if there isn't a main building. Bridgewater issued an official order for the RV to be removed on June 27.

Crowder said they have also received complaints about the property, with people reporting open fires and other safety issues.

"We're required to enforce our bylaws and I think that it's demonstrated that we do sympathize with the situation they're in, because we've been working with them for the last two years," Crowder said.

Kim said she missed appealing the order within the seven-day deadline as it was over a long weekend, and she was "in shock" about where they would go.

"I'm amazed at this situation today when the town is crying out, 'housing problem,'" Bolton said. "Why can't you allow some people that decide to build a home?"

The Nicholsons said a staff member with the town was "decent" when he visited to explain why they couldn't live in the RV.

"He says, well, 'nothing in the bylaw says you can't be in a tent," Kim recalled. "I think he was actually trying to give us an option … but at the same time, that's a heck of an option."

Crowder said she was "not aware" of that comment being made and would have to look into whether a tent would be allowed in this situation.

Couple say neighbours are hostile

The Nicholsons said they are very aware their neighbours want them to leave. When Bolton first arrived to cut some bushes with a machete, town police approached and told him to drop his "weapon."

"That scared the living hell out of me up to this day," Bolton said.

Once he explained what he was doing, Bolton said the officers apologized and said they'd gotten a call from a neighbour about a strange person in the area with a machete.

Since then, the Nicholsons said nearby residents have confronted them about the tree-cutting and other changes Bolton was making on his property.

Now Bolton said he feels like selling the land.

"The treatment I get here from the town and from the neighbours, it is not acceptable. I have been to different parts of Canada. I have never had this," he said.

"It's just too much for me. I'm too old to have to go through this type of heartache."

Damage from flood

The Nicholsons were also among the many Nova Scotians who saw their property flooded during last weekend's historic rainstorm. The creek through their land overflowed, damaging the property.

Kim emailed the town to ask for more time to move the RV. Crowder told CBC News that the town had granted the Nicholsons an extra 30 days, but as of Thursday afternoon the couple still hadn't heard from town officials directly.

On Friday morning, nearly a week after the Nicholsons asked for more time, the town revoked the order to remove the RV, as they are working through the situation in a "different direction" by connecting them to a housing support group.

The RV would be permitted to stay on the property as long as the couple are not living in it.

Bolton said it's surreal to be in this position after all of Nova Scotia's recent natural disasters.

"The fire didn't put us out. The storm didn't put us out. The town put us out," he said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Haley Ryan

Reporter

Haley Ryan is the municipal affairs reporter for CBC covering mainland Nova Scotia. Got a story idea? Send an email to haley.ryan@cbc.ca, or reach out on Twitter @hkryan17.

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