Port of Churchill

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Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is a port on Hudson Bay, part of the Arctic Ocean and connected to the North Atlantic.

The port was originally owned by the Government of Canada but was sold in 1997 to the American company OmniTRAX to run privately. In December 2015, OmniTRAX announced it was negotiating a sale of the port, and the associated Hudson Bay Railway, to a group of First Nations based in northern Manitoba.[1][2] No sale had been finalized by July 2016, and OmniTRAX shut down the port and the major railroad freight operations in August 2016.[2][3] (The railway continued to bring goods and passengers to the town of Churchill until the line was damaged by flooding on May 23, 2017.)

As of 2008, the port had four deep-sea berths capable of handling Panamax-size vessels for the loading and unloading of grain, bulk commodities, general cargo, and tanker vessels.[4][5] The port is connected to the Hudson Bay Railway, a subsidiary of OmniTRAX. Further connections are made with the Canadian National Railway system. It was the only port of its size and scope in Canada that did not connect directly to the country's road system; all goods shipped overland to and from the port must travel by rail.


The port was built in the late 1920s, and first opened for grain shipments in 1931, following a six-year project to build the railroad to connect the town and port to other points in Canada.[3]

As this Arch Dale cartoon shows, the notion that Churchill could be a port was originally the subject of mockery.

The port—and all freight railroad service to the port—was shut down in August 2016 following the Government of Canada's ending of the Wheat Board monopoly, which subsequently allowed Canadian farmers to sell grain to all market participants, and shippers were free to ship via lower-cost non-Arctic ports and transport routes.[3]

Port operations[edit]

The port is iced in for much of the year and is accessible only between late July and early November.[4] For example, in 2010 the shipping season was July 28 to Nov. 2.[6] Shallow waters also restrict its development as an ocean port. Despite these restrictions the port remains useful for shipping grain and other bulk cargos because shipping by rail costs several times as much, per ton, as shipping by sea.

The port is a compulsory pilotage area.[7] Pilotage is provided by the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority, a Crown corporation of the Government of Canada which includes responsibility for pilotage on the Hudson Bay coast of the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.[8] Pilotage charges between July 20 and October 31 follow a published schedule; outside these dates charges are based on cost recovery.[9]

During 1931–2016, the port typically was used for outgoing shipments of grain, usually from the Canadian Wheat Board.[10]

Since 2007 port activity diversified somewhat and increased in line with growth in Arctic mining operations in Nunavut and an expansion in supply ship reloading.[11] In September 2007 the port handled its first domestic export trade, shipping 12,500 tonnes of wheat to Halifax aboard the Arctic supply ship Kathryn Spirit.[11] On October 18, 2007 the port received its first import trade in seven years and the first ever from Russia, a shipment of fertilizer purchased by Farmers of North America. The shipment is supposed to be the beginning of an Arctic Bridge that would link Churchill with the Russian port of Murmansk.[4]

The port was almost entirely reliant on grain from the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) for its viability. Wheat accounted for 90 per cent of all traffic through the port. According to a November 6, 2008 press release, the CWB shipped 424,000 tons of western Canadian wheat through the port of Churchill during the 2008 shipping season. The first wheat left port on August 8, and the last of 15 freighters left on October 20.[12] Exporting Prairie wheat through Churchill saves Canadian farmers money on transportation in terms of rail-freight costs and avoiding Saint Lawrence Seaway charges,[citation needed] but the operating profits to the private company operating the port were highly dependent on the monopoly rates and rules implemented by the CWB.[3] The CWB incentivized shipments via the port through the use of its Churchill Storage Program which paid farmers to retain grain on-farm for later movement through the port. Because the Churchill shipping season begins before the new wheat crop is harvested each summer, the Storage Program helped ensure adequate volumes of grain are available for export by bringing in grain saved from the year before.[citation needed]

The port of Churchill exported 710,000 tonnes (700,000 long tons; 780,000 short tons) of grain in 1977, 621,000 tonnes in 2007, and 529,000 tonnes in 2009.[13] Shipments continued to decline, falling to 432,434 tonnes (425,604 long tons; 476,677 short tons) in 2012 and plummeting to 186,000 tonnes (183,000 long tons; 205,000 short tons) in 2015.[14][15] Port operations ceased in August 2016.[2]

The CWB was sold off to Saudi Company, G3 Global Grain Group in 2015 and the Churchill Port suffered as grain shipments were slowly ceased.[16] Omnitrax then closed the rail-line and port, citing profitability of the operations. They then entered into initial talks to sell the port and rail-line to a local indigenous consortium of Manitoba First Nations, Missnippi Rail Consortium.[17]

Alternatives to grain[edit]

The government of Manitoba proposed in 2010 that the Port of Churchill could serve as the North American terminus of an Arctic Bridge shipping service to Murmansk in Northern Russia. Containers from inland China and central Asia could potentially be transported to Murmansk by Russian railways, shipped to Churchill then transported south by rail to major destinations in North America avoiding existing transport bottlenecks.[18]

In 2010, investments to upgrade the port to, "facilitating export options and the flow of two-way trade with other Northern ports." were made,[19] as described in the Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising : Sovereignty and Promoting Canada's Northern Strategy Abroad which is launched on August 20 2010.[20]

Canada is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, and the Port of Churchill has an oil-handling system. The port's owner has proposed a $2 million upgrade to this system, which would give additional competitive advantage to Canada's oil export industry.[21]

Marketing efforts[edit]

The Churchill Gateway Development Corporation was created in 2003 to market the port and diversify its traffic base.[22]


  1. ^ Macintosh, Cameron. "OmniTrax sells Port of Churchill, Hudson Bay rail line to First Nations group". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  2. ^ a b c Lambert, Steve (2016-07-28). "Port of Churchill shut down after being refused bailout, premier suggests". The Canadian Press. Toronto Star. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  3. ^ a b c d "How Ottawa abandoned Churchill, our only Arctic port". Maclean's. 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2016-08-24. The idea of building a deep-water port on Hudson Bay began in the 19th century. It was conceived as a great nation-building enterprise, a more direct route to Europe, and a strategic gateway giving Canada an indisputable claim to the Arctic. The rail line from The Pas took six years to build, cutting through the forest and over the muskeg. The first grain shipment left in 1931. In 1997, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien sold the railroad and port to Omnitrax, based out of Denver. The port soon saw record volumes of exports being shipped to Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa. Then Stephen Harper’s Conservatives ended the Wheat Board monopoly, and farmers were free to sell their grain to whomever they chose. They chose companies shipping out of Thunder Bay or Vancouver. So the ships stopped coming, and in July Omnitrax announced it was closing the port and ending its rail freight service, too.
  4. ^ a b c Friesen, Joe (2007-10-18). "Russian ship crosses 'Arctic bridge' to Manitoba". The Globe and Mail. CTVglobemedia Publishing. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  5. ^ "Churchill Port and Railway Owners Push to Ship Million Tonnes in 2008". Marketwire. Marketwire Inc. 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-09. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  7. ^ port of churchill: port operations
  8. ^ Great Lakes Pilotage Authority - About GLPA
  9. ^ Great Lakes Pilotage Tariff Regulations (SOR/84-253), SCHEDULE III: PILOTAGE CHARGES FOR THE PORT OF CHURCHILL, MANITOBA
  10. ^ Winnipeg Free Press
  11. ^ a b "Churchill port makes 1st domestic grain shipment". CBC News Canada. CBC. 2007-09-19. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  13. ^ "Wheat exports big in Churchill". Winnipeg Free Press. 30 October 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  14. ^ http://www.fcc-fac.ca/newsletters/en/express/articles/20121221_e.asp#story_3
  15. ^ Pauls, Karen; Coubrough, Jill (2015-12-01). "OmniTrax selling Port of Churchill, Hudson Bay rail line". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  16. ^ "Ottawa closes sale of Canadian Wheat Board, name changes to G3 Canada Ltd". CBC News. July 31, 2015. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  17. ^ "Agreement signed for sale of Churchill port, Hudson Bay rail line". CBC News. December 22, 2016. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  18. ^ "2010-11-01". 2010-12-13. Retrieved 2010-12-13.
  19. ^ "Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising : Sovereignty and Promoting Canada's Northern Strategy Abroad". Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Retrieved 2015-06-26.
  20. ^ "Archived - Minister Cannon Releases Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy Statement". Retrieved 2015-06-26.
  21. ^ Barker, John (21 Aug 2013). "Port of Churchill: Gateway to northern Europe for Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota sweet crude oil?". Thompson Citizen. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Jeff McEachern Executive Director, Churchill Gateway Development". CityAge Media. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

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