'Cutting ties and starting fresh': Why this pair left Toronto for rural P.E.I.

·4 min read
Steff Sullivan and Jesse Assing moved to P.E.I. together in January.  (Submitted by Steff Sullivan  - image credit)
Steff Sullivan and Jesse Assing moved to P.E.I. together in January. (Submitted by Steff Sullivan - image credit)

Stepping out the front door of their 700 square foot townhouse in downtown Toronto, Steff Sullivan saw concrete buildings and heard the city's powerful roar.

But that was before.

Now she and her partner Jesse Assing walk outside to a quiet plot of land near a forest with the view of the ocean off in the distance.

"We moved to Stanley Bridge," said Sullivan.

"There was definitely, I'd say, a big emotional relief doing this move, just cutting ties and starting fresh, which was actually a really nice feeling in the end."

"It's very different. Personally, I'm much happier here," said Assing.

'Never thought I would leave'

The duo grew up together in a small Ontario town but always wanted to live the city life.

"I never thought I would leave Toronto when I was still in my 20s," said Sullivan.

'I moved to Toronto to sort of live the city life,' says Sullivan.
'I moved to Toronto to sort of live the city life,' says Sullivan. (Submitted by Steff Sullivan)

But when Assing inherited a small cottage and the pandemic struck, priorities changed.

"In the Toronto lockdown, they suggested that you don't leave home unless it's for essential reasons. So you quite literally are stuck in a very small space," said Sullivan.

"I honestly believe if it wasn't for COVID, we likely wouldn't have done this."

The draw of the vibrant metropolis came down to what it had to offer, said Sullivan. Pre-pandemic, that included extravagant events, unique restaurants and compelling opportunities.

But with its hustle and bustle on pause, its attraction faded. Especially looking at the hefty price tag attached to the small Toronto townhouse.

"There just didn't seem to be much keeping us there any longer."

'Letting go'

Finally, a decision was made. The pair sold almost everything they had, keeping just clothes and kitchenware. Then they packed a trailer, hopped in their car and headed east.

"Over the course of about six or seven years, I did accumulate things that I grew very attached to," said Sullivan.

"So the move here was a little bit difficult, just kind of letting go of that, knowing that that was just a chapter that was closing."

'I love the the East Coast,' says Assing, whose maternal side of the family is from Prince Edward Island.
'I love the the East Coast,' says Assing, whose maternal side of the family is from Prince Edward Island. (Submitted by Steff Sullivan )

Sullivan and Assing drove through the night and straight into P.E.I.'s mandatory 14-day isolation. Both had previous experience with the health regulations and by this time around, Sullivan said they were "isolations pros."

"I think it was actually a blessing when I look back on it," she said.

"It was a lot to move. It's really emotional, it's really physically exhausting to do that drive. So it gave us that chance to just decompress."

'Wow, we live here'

When the two weeks were up, the pair finally got the breath of fresh ocean air they had been looking for and despite the icy weather, headed to Brackley Beach.

"We wanted to see something outside of the four walls of our house," Sullivan laughed.

"It was that day that I finally realized, like wow, we live here and this was just a small taste of what's to come."

Sullivan says because they drove, they had to be thinking about what to bring and what to leave behind.
Sullivan says because they drove, they had to be thinking about what to bring and what to leave behind.(Submitted by Steff Sullivan)

While still working remotely from Toronto, Sullivan and Assing are continuing to grow their love of the Island. In fact, they even welcomed a new puppy into their lives naming it Brackley, after that first adventure.

"I don't think there will be any regrets," said Assing.

"Whatever decision you make in life just puts you on a path and you learn something one way or another."

I would do this decision again in heartbeat. — Steff Sullivan

As for how long the two plan on staying, Sullivan said that decision is still up in the air.

"I'm not sure we'll permanently live here forever," she said.

But Assing said he has a suspicion they'll be on the Island for a while yet.

"Every day that passes that we're here, I have this feeling that we're going to stay," he said.

New home

Since the move, Sullivan said she has received several questions from others looking to make a similar lifestyle change.

'I have found so much peace in simplifying life,' says Sullivan.
'I have found so much peace in simplifying life,' says Sullivan.(Submitted by Steff Sullivan)

"If you've been debating leaving a city ... and you keep thinking about it often and you keep coming back to it, it's probably a good sign that you should do it," she said.

Even though it was tough, she said she reminds herself Toronto isn't going anywhere and it's OK to not always have everything figured out.

And now, stepping outside of their quaint P.E.I. cottage each morning, it's quiet, it's open and it feels like home.

"We just kind of transitioned to a little bit more simple experiences, like really enjoying nature which we didn't get a lot of in the city," she said.

"I would do this decision again in heartbeat."

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