Work is underway at restoring the Port of Churchill to its former glory. Omer Al-Katib, spokesperson for Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership, said this includes work on grain storage, the wharf and new grain cleaning equipment.
“The port fell into a state of disrepair as the port was not being fully utilized over the last few years,” Al-Katib said.
However hauling grain to Churchill by rail, he said, won’t begin until the spring. But he pointed to the strategic significance of the rail line and port located in northern Manitoba.
“Churchill provides a real advantage to Canada as the only rail-serviced Arctic deep water port in North America,” he said.
Not only is the port on Hudson Bay closer to Europe than ports along North America’s east coast, Churchill is 7,000 kilometres closer to Shanghai, China than the Port of New York and New Jersey in the United States via the Northwest Passage. With global climate change the passage will be an important trade route.
Still given its location, Churchill is not a year-round port. Al-Katib said its shipping season is usually September to November.
“Because of the limited shipping period, the port is viable as a surge port option for Western Canadian grain,” he said.
When there are backlogs in major grain ports such as Prince Rupert and Vancouver in British Columbia, Churchill can take some of the pressure off. That’s something that has been missing in the last few of years. According to figures on the Hudson Bay Route Association’s website grain shipments through Churchill in 2013 amounted to 640,000 tonnes and dipped to 530,000 tonnes the following year. Shipments plummeted to about 185,000 tonnes in 2015 before drying up.
Besides grain Al-Katib believes Churchill can be used to ship other commodities.
“All kinds of things could be moving in and out of that port as the season opens,” he said and cited potash as one.
Arctic Gateway includes AGT Limited Partnership in Regina, Sask. along with Fairfax Financial Holdings in Toronto, Ont. and Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, which is comprised 41 First Nation and other communities in Manitoba and Nunavut.
All rail service to the northern Manitoba community was cut in May 2017 when the line was washed out. Only after Arctic Gateway purchased the line and the port from OmniTrax did repairs get underway and they were completed within 40 days.
The first train arrived in Churchill on Oct. 31 and the first freight train is set to arrive Nov. 23. Via Rail said it has yet to set a date to resume its passenger service to Churchill.