Celebrating a strong, creative, resilient Lunenburg County
NOW, MORE THAN EVER...
BY MARGARET HOEGG
It’s a trade with a long, romantic history on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Today, it’s a niche industry in high demand. At Tern Boatworks in Gold River, Nova Scotia, owner Bruce Thompson’s boatyard is so busy that he has a backlog of projects and a shortage of skilled tradespeople.
“It’s not only boat building,” said Thompson. “Every trade that I know is lacking skilled people.” Thompson hires some employees through the apprenticeship programs run by the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association. Half a dozen apprentices have completed their program working alongside his crew.
Thompson’s own apprenticeship was more informal. With just a photo of the boat he built in his parent’s garage, he approached Covey Island Boatworks, then in Petite Rivière, to express his interest in learning the trade.
To his surprise, they hired him on the spot. “So that’s it,” he said. “I packed everything up in the city and moved down to the South Shore.”
Thompson mentored with talented builders to learn the hands on skills and filled in the written end of things through night courses. In five years, he had the skill and confidence to start his own company.
“My passion to put out good work is kind of what pushes everything,” he said. “The whole business end of it just kind of fell in place, but it’s been a steep learning curve.” Tern Boatworks steers clear of specializing in a single niche aspect of the trade. He said, “we’ll do traditional boat work, we’ll do composite boat building, and we’ll take on something that’s completely off the wall.”
This kept his company open to opportunities such as The Enigma, a new 34’ International One Design Class wooden racing boat, and more unique projects, such as the 45’ submarine playground structure for Halifax Waterfront
Development Commission, which they built using the same strip-planking method used in the Bluenose II restoration project.
This kind of creativity and diversification is what helps his business stay on an even keel, even in a turbulent economy. Thompson said there is renewed interest in “new builds”.
People are looking for something handcrafted and high quality. Traditional boat building is “an artisan trade in some ways,” he said. “It’s something that can be beautiful and functional at the same time.”
Lunenburg County turned out to be the perfect location for his business and also ideal for raising a family. He and his wife live in LaHave with their two young children. “It’s not a community that’s dying, it’s a community that’s thriving,” said Thompson. “I think there’s a comeback to rural communities, especially on the South Shore.”