Tiana Stafford left New Brunswick for Camrose, Alta., five years ago with her daughters and her aunt in search of a better future. Within a year she was back in Saint John determined to make things work at home instead.

"That was the dream, to move out there and start a new life," said Stafford, 29. "[My aunt and I both] got good jobs and things were going good, but I just missed home.

"For me and my family, the best thing for us was to be here in New Brunswick."

Stafford was at the front end of what has become a growing trend helping to drive recent population growth in New Brunswick — the return of people from Western Canada.

According to the latest population estimates released last week by Statistics Canada, New Brunswick has added 5,711 people over the last two years.

It's a modest increase, one of the lowest growth rates in Canada, but a significant improvement over the three previous years, which saw steady population declines in the province.

International immigrants, including refugees, are behind much of the improvement, but tucked inside those numbers is something else that has been supporting growth almost as much — a steep decline in the loss of people to other provinces, especially Alberta.

"Flow with Alberta just dominates New Brunswick's interprovincial activity going back over time," notes Blake Shaffer, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Calgary who has studied population movements inside Canada.

"It's quite striking," he said. "For New Brunswick it's been a pretty significant emigration. But this has really receded of late."

Blake Shaffer

Blake Shaffer, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Calgary who studies population movements in Canada, says New Brunswick has long sent residents west but has been growing at the expense of Alberta for the past two years. (@bcshaffer/Twitter)

Alberta has long been the leading destination for New Brunswick residents looking for opportunity. In the 10 years between 2006 and 2015, the province lost a net 18,000 people to other provinces and three-quarters of those losses were to Alberta.

But over the last two years, that has flipped. Although 4,487 New Brunswick residents did still move to Alberta, 5,033 moved the other way — a 546-person net gain for New Brunswick that has finally allowed population growth to get some traction.

Shaffer made the point Alberta's economy has been struggling with low oil prices, and New Brunswick has gained population from previous downturns only to see the exodus resume later.

Still, the current movement of people from Alberta to New Brunswick has been underway for two years now, the longest sustained stretch in 30 years.

New Brunswick - Alberta interprovincial migration chart

New Brunswick saw a net gain of 546 people in interprovincial movement with Alberta over the past two years. (Submitted by Blake Shaffer, source CANSIM 051-0045)

Stafford said she has some idea why people come back. The pull of home can be stronger than people realize when they leave.

"I have more appreciation for New Brunswick since I came back," she said.

"Just being surrounded by water, minutes away from water at any time is something that's amazing to me that I took for granted before.

"I kind of realized that money isn't everything."