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On common ground 

Walking the dog or whipping a Frisbee, the Halifax Common is ground zero for romance and friendship.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: Halifax can be a tough place to meet new people. Blame it on our size, which in this case, really does matter. With approximately 380,000 people living in Halifax, there are plenty of interesting people to meet. But with only 380,000 people living in Halifax, dating or making new friends can feel both impossible and incestuous. Six degrees of separation is a luxury, if it’s possible. For singletons in Halifax, recycling isn’t restricted to glass bottles, yet every year there are weddings, new babies and reports of new friendships—evidence that Haligonians are adept at plumbing the nooks and crannies of this very shallow social gene pool. The real questions are how and where do they do this? Internet dating is getting enormous play in the media, and it’s true, we all know people who have hooked up that way. But technophobes can rest well assured that the old fashioned way—leaving one’s house to meet an actual person (in person!)—is still very much alive and well.

There is a place that people meet in this city that’s accessible to everyone, free and right under our noses, smack dab in the middle of Halifax proper. The Halifax Common Grounds. At approximately 20 acres and host to countless activities—from cricket to basketball, skateboarding to dog walking, pot smoking to kite-flying—that patch of public land has the potential to be the biggest pickup joint in town. My own first-hand experience of romance on the Common is sadly limited to witnessing a drunk couple doing it in the bushes after a baseball game (I can still feel the retinal burn), and the kind but nauseating invitation by a stranger to help polish off his litre of Colt 45 at 8:30 in the morning. But there are success stories out there. Here are just two of them.

Sam and GregorStatus: MarriedCommon interest: Ultimate Frisbee

In the summer of 1997, 23-year-old Samara (Sam) was a student at Acadia University, while Gregor was working in the Annapolis Valley. On a week like any other, both were invited by friends to play a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee on the Mainland Common. Both athletically inclined and in Halifax that night anyway, Sam and Gregor made their separate ways to the park. For both, the game was an instant hit. Not so of each other. “The reality is the first time we met, it wasn’t love at first sight,” says Sam in a phone interview, with Gregor on the other line. Gregor was already in a relationship at the time, and Sam, while intrigued, was put off by his age. “I was talking to some of my women friends afterwards,” she remembers, “and we were talking about this guy Gregor, saying, ‘Yeah, it’s too bad he’s so old.’ He was so friendly and pleasant and nice to everyone, but he was working, and we were all students.”

Soon after the initial meeting, the two ran into each other in Wolfville. Inevitably, they discussed the age issue. “They had me pegged about 10 years older than I was,” recalls Gregor. Turns out he’s actually a month younger than Sam and with that out of the way, Sam realized pretty quickly he was a guy she wanted to know better. Ditto for Gregor. He wrapped up his relationship and acknowledged his feelings for Sam. “He told me, ‘I have good news and bad news. I like you, but I’m leaving,’” she recalls. Three weeks later, Gregor left for Toronto to do his Master’s degree, and the couple spent the next two years toughing it out over expensive long distance and the archaic early versions of ICQ and internet phone (Sam recalls saying “over” at the end of each sentence). Gregor returned to Halifax in 1999 and the two have both literally and figuratively been playing Ultimate ever since. They married in August 2002, and represented Halifax in four national and international Ultimate tournaments.

Several of Gregor and Sam’s teammates are couples who met the same way. “To some extent, I do think Ultimate is unique in that respect, because you can play recreation or competitive in coed teams,” says Sam. They still spend a great deal of time in the summer on the Common, and now bring their daughter Quinn to the field as well. “It’s one of the things we can do together.”

Sarah and AnnabelleStatus: Best friendsCommon interest: Dog walking

“I definitely remember the first time I met you,” Annabelle tells Sarah. Sarah laughs back, “This does sound romantic! I’m blushing!” The two are at a cafe on Agricola Street talking about how they met, and the unusual dog-walking group they were a part of, from 2000 to 2002. “You were in that section of the Common close to Bauer,” recalls Annabelle. “Eli was still very young and out of control and you were distraught about how out of control he was.” Annabelle was the self-described busybody know-it-all of the dog walkers on the Common. Having spent the last seven years working for a veterinarian, she was used to doling out doggie advice. “That’s how I met people by getting in there to advise people of what they were doing wrong. I still sort of do.” Sarah calls her Dog Nazi.

At the time, both women were going through huge transitions in their lives. Sarah had just moved back to Halifax and “only knew one person,” while Annabelle was newly single and making an enormous career change by going back to school. “That was my world then, school and the dogs.” After about a month, Anabelle asked Sarah, a naturopathic doctor, to speak at a conference she was organizing and soon they were hanging out off the Common—sometimes even without the dogs.

It wasn’t just Sarah and Annabelle who were connecting. Slowly and organically, a klatch of about six or seven regular dog walkers had begun to form. They quickly got past the superficial topic of their dogs, and soon were talking about their lives—a most unusual experience amongst dog walkers who are generally more than happy to discuss every nuance of their dog’s personality, but recoil as if slapped when asked for their first name. Sarah agrees it was a highly unique situation. “It was a group of really cool, hip, attractive people,” she explains. “There was definitely a chemistry that was very flirty. And we wouldn’t talk to anyone else. We were all the same age, all at the same stage, it gelled. We had the same taste in music. We ignored the dogs, we would just stand out there and yak. We had a Christmas party one year, we brought thermoses of coffee and Bailey’s, and somebody made up cookies.”

Flirting and Bailey’s notwithstanding, no one from the group hooked up romantically. “It was almost like it was too sacred,” Annabelle says. No one was willing to risk the group, which inevitably began to dissolve. Some moved away, while Sarah and Annabelle started taking their dogs to Point Pleasant Park. Sarah and Annabelle have remained the best of friends and nostalgic about their early dog walking days. It couldn’t be recreated, says Sarah. “Once we moved, the magic of the Common was gone.”

Shayla Howell enjoys a perfect view of all your loving activities on the Halifax Common.

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