The owner of a shipyard in Meteghan River, N.S., is grateful he's able to hire back workers returning from the oilsands.

Many are leaving Western Canada after oil prices started to plummet, forcing petroleum producers to lay off thousands of workers.

Out of the 169 people currently employed at A.F. Theriault & Sons, 12 have recently returned from Alberta.

"It doesn't sound like much, but most of them were qualified tradesmen, welders, plumber," said Gilles Theriault, director of A.F. Theriault.  

"So there's some that did come back, especially the welders and the fitters who made a big difference, especially for us building two big steel projects right now. We needed the extra boost, the extra manpower, so it worked out perfectly for us."

Gilles Theriault, Director of A.F. Theriault

Giles Theriault is the director of A.F. Theriault & Sons, a shipbuilding business in Meteghan River, N.S. He's been bringing in new workers from Alberta. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

One of those new employees is Mike LeBlanc. He was working on demolition projects in Calgary last year when the warning signs convinced him it was time to move home to Nova Scotia.

"It turned out pretty good because it was just before everything started going down, I guess, on the oilpatch side," he said.

"There wasn't enough hours and it was booming here so they said they'd give me the hours, so we moved."

LeBlanc had a job lined up at A.F. Theriault before making the leap back to the East Coast.

"It's different. I didn't know anything about building boats. Now I do," said LeBlanc.

Business is booming

 A.F. Theriault & Sons boat under construction

It takes hard-working specialized employees to build boats. A. F. Theriault has a good supply of those workers, but it could always use more. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

A.F. Theriault has been in operation since 1938. Right now, the company is building a new Halifax-Dartmouth ferry, a fishing boat, a coast guard vessel, as well as 32 military drones.

Theriault said losing workers to Alberta in recent years created a level of uncertainty.

"When you have multiple projects and lots of things to do and you have people moving on, going out West, it's a leery feeling. You have to be concerned about the jobs that you bid or the jobs you try to get, and try to maintain," he said.

"The people that are coming back give you a peace of mind that you can go on and find work and get work and promote your company even more grander for the next coming years, for sure."

Oil down, fishery on upswing

Theriault suggests that while current economic conditions aren't good for the oil industry, there has been a boost in the fishing industry. He said the low Canadian dollar drives up exports and low oil prices make it cheaper to operate fishing boats.

"It costs you less to go get the fish or the lobster or the scallops. If it costs you less to go get it, it helps you and it helps our clients and it helps ourselves to thrive in southwestern Nova Scotia, period," said Theriault.

As for his own pool of workers, Theriault said he could always use more.

"When you have the people here, you tend to get up in the morning a little bit earlier and, you know, get your team together and go out and even find a little bit more work than you would a few years back," he said.