By Mark Cardwell

Few, if any, Canadians with a vested interest in shipbuilding can take as long a view on the industry as Gilles Thériault. The third-generation owner of A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. says he likes what he sees on the subject of the amount of work that is available right now and in the foreseeable future, and the kind of work.

“2013 has been a good year for us,” the bilingual Thériault said from Meteghan River, the mostly Acadian community on the Bay of Fundy coast in southeastern Nova Scotia where his family has been building and repairing ships since 1938. “We’ve been busy (and) it looks like things are going to stay that way for a while yet.”

Part of that confidence comes from the wide variety of clients that have been putting in orders for new vessels of up to 150 feet in length made with steel, fibreglass, aluminum, and/or the latest composite materials. Among the forty newbuilds that Thériault says his company completed this year were several remote-controlled drones for an unnamed international client, a half-dozen 29-foot Rosborough rough-water RIB work boats for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and several large fibreglass fishing vessels – including a 62-foot Fish Dragger and a 66-foot fishing Longliner – for both domestic and foreign clients.

“The economy’s good so there’s been a good mix of government contracts and commercial work,” said Thériault. Despite the collapse of the cod stocks, he said the fishing industry remains a mainstay for newbuild orders at the yard, which has been one of the biggest employers in Digby County for generations. “Fortunately there are a lot of species out there (and) when some go down, others go up,” said Thériault, who owns and operates the yard together with two of his cousins – John and David Thériault.

In addition to the lobster season, which just got underway, he pointed to scallops, herring and, more recently, aquaculture as needing fishing and work vessels. “Some of our clients have fish pens now for salmon on the ocean,” noted Thériault. “Five years ago, we didn’t have those.”

While the building of new vessels for pleasure, work, patrol, fire, fishing, and piloting – and for the shuttling of cars and people on ferries and barges – is a key activity at the yard, he said the business relies more on repair and refit work to keep its approximately 100 employees busy throughout the year. “Repairs and refits are really our bread and butter,” said Thériault. “We always have four to eight ships on repair at any one time. The problem sometimes is that ships don’t come in a line, they come in bunches. That can make our lives quite difficult sometimes.”

Despite competition from other yards both here in Canada and along the American Eastern Seaboard, Thériault believes there is enough work to go around. While he is not counting on getting any subcontracting work under the $25-billion federal shipbuilding contract landed by Irving, he is interested in competing for contracts to build the 114 vessels of less than 1,000 tonnes that the federal government also intends to build under NSPS. “We’d like to get some of that, for sure,” Thériault told Canadian Sailings. “We’ll give her a good go when the government decides (and) we find out the details.”

Thériault lauded the positive effect that the NSPS programme is already having on government investment in skilled manpower programmes in the Maritimes. “It’s fantastic to see government putting more resources into education and training,” he said. “There are now a lot more machinists and pipefitters and welders available, and there are jobs to keep them here (and) not go out west.”