Smooth Sailing

A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd.

The company combines time tested quality and workmanship with the latest developments and technologies to produce a wide variety of boats of diverse materials including steel, aluminum, fibreglass and composites.

A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. was launched in 1938 by Augustin Theriault. He was educated at Franklin University in Boston where he learned boat design, and returned home to the Meteghan River area of Nova Scotia where he started a shipyard building wooden commercial boats and fishing boats. The boats didn’t make Augustin any money at first, but he enjoyed the process and loved the work, and his wife believed he should stick with it. Eventually, the business took off and a large work space was built on the coastline to meet the demand.

The demand for wooden commercial and fishing boats grew and soon many of the boats built by the company could be seen around eastern Nova Scotia. The company also built a car ferry for the province. Around 1958, the business was given a boost by two competing seafood corporations. Local entrepreneurs Bernardin J. Comeau of Comeau’s Sea Foods and Laurence Sweeney of Laurence Sweeney Fisheries needed wooden scallopers. A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. began by building 65 foot long boats and gradually gained the contracts to produce 100 footers. Many were built for both companies – a fleet’s worth. This relationship lasted until the 1970s and put the A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. name on the map as it developed a reputation of professionalism and a diligent work ethic.

Throughout the 1970s, fishing boats were built for catching whitefish and herring. A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. incorporated new styles into modern trawlers for the local fishermen. “So by 1980 we were still on a lot of fishing vessels, until 1988 which was a big year for our company,” explains General Manager Gilles Theriault. “We expanded our buildings and modernized them to have the proper equipment to diversify from building wooden boats to steel and fibreglass boats. We needed to move forward. By the 1980s the wooden ship building era was slowing down and we needed to change to survive. The last wooden ship that we launched here was in 1989.” And change the company did.

A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. soon built up an impressive array of certifications in order to build steel, aluminum and fibreglass boats. While still in the business of building fishing boats, it added a host of other different projects to enhance its portfolio, employing new techniques and technologies. “We have always had a good working relationship with fishermen,” says Gilles. “We live right on the ocean after all. But it’s not always affordable for them to get new boats built, so we needed to adapt into new ventures. Fibreglass boats are strong and have less maintenance; this had a good influence on the market. So we started to build more car ferries for the province along with aquaculture boats – one of which went to Iceland in 1995.” Thus started the company’s expansion into new markets.

In 2000, when the market was strong, A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. began building steel oceangoing vessels and pleasure boats including some large yachts. When the economy crashed, that niche yacht market fairly disappeared. Many companies would fold at this point or take on heavy losses, but not A.F. Theriault. While business still came in the form of contracts to build, repair and refit fishing vessels, the company now ventured into commercial vessels such as ferries, a catamaran for the RCMP, scientific research vessels, and workboats.

Starting in 2004, it built a series of high-powered cruisers for Europe-based Windcat Workboats to service ocean-based wind turbines. “We were building them here and sailing them to Halifax before putting them on a container and shipping them to Europe,” explains Gilles. The company ended up building eighteen of these durable and dependable catamarans over six years.

Despite tough economic times, the company’s strong skill set and sterling reputation have enabled it to have multiple projects on the go. A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. has also entered into a new lucrative market building unmanned surface vehicle targets for a company called Meggitt Training Systems Canada out of Medicine Hat, Alberta. The suicide bombing in 2000 against the United States Navy ship USS Cole resulted in the need for navies to practice defending themselves against that sort of attack, and the result is the Hammerhead USV-T, a remote controlled boat-like vessel for naval target practice. To date the company has produced over two hundred of these unmanned surface vehicle targets with a fresh order asking for 56 more for the Royal Canadian Navy. The company builds the nimble little vehicles and then they are supplied with electrical components before being shipped off to train navies around the world.

“These drones are not cheap so they respect the process and take it quite seriously,” says Gilles. “It gives the gunmen more training as they can move it around with remote control from the sides of the ship, giving the gunmen a feel for the weapon. We will build the 56 in about four months. We have highly skilled staff that can finish the job in time because it is not a very big boat at seventeen feet long. We don’t like to brag, but it is possible that we are one of the only shipbuilders that can pull off this volume in a short time.”

The company has also built specialty fire boats. It started with the city of Portland, Maine. Though it had never before built a fireboat, the company was invited to tender because of its extensive experience building aluminum boats. “We were very accommodating because our staff have dealt with people who are not sure as to what they want. We guide them through the process. So we got the contract to build the fire boat based on our unique way of working with our customers.” When the boat was completed, Portland made A.F. Theriault & Son an honorary member of the Portland Fire Department. Another impressively powerful fire boat, the “American United,” was built for the Massachusetts Port Authority based out of Boston.

This family owned company has been in business for 75 years. So, what is A.F. Theriault & Son doing to celebrate its platinum anniversary? Actually, “We are not doing enough to celebrate this milestone,” says Gilles. “It can be used to our advantage as a great marketing tool. It’s just that we are going through a heavy period right now. I need to sit down and come up with a plan of attack. I have a few ideas up my sleeve but now it’s just work, work, work. Before the end of the summer we will have something.”

Gilles Theriault sums up in his own words why and how A.F. Theriault & Son has become such a successful shipbuilder. “We are always looking at different markets and being optimistic in the economy – always moving forward,” he says. “We will push the envelope and try different things. We have dedicated staff, loyal customers, and people that we thrive with. We try our best to do good quality work.

“Marketing is very important if we are to survive the future in boat building and repairs. We have a repair facility that we also need to maintain customer satisfaction… If you have a vision or a dream we can take them and make them come true. We have quality assurance programs in-house, and we try our best whatever the economy.” Looks like it’s full speed ahead!

July 16, 2018, 6:40 AM EDT

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